When the 19th-ranked Spartans (7-2) walked onto their home court in the Breslin Center Wednesday night for the start of their match up against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-7), they knew how important it would be to prove to head coach Tom Izzo that they had been learning from their mistakes.
In a way, they did just that; but in another way, they failed miserably.
Michigan State’s defense performed at an elite level right out of the gates, holding the stagnant Golden Lions’ offense without a single point for nearly the first 10 minutes. For much of the rest of the game, it was a defensive performance to behold seeing Tom Izzo’s team come together to bring an offense to their knees (granted, it was the 1-7 Golden Lions). But for the Spartans’ offensive, which seemed lost and unorganized in the opening minutes, it was far less of a miraculous start.
“Missing good shots and turning the ball over kind of made me not appreciate our defense,” Izzo told reporters after the game.
It was freshman guard Garry Harris who led Michigan State in scoring this time around with 13 points, brought up swiftly from the rear by Travis Trice with 12 and Branden Dawson with 10 of his own. Trice also had five assists on the night to lead MSU in that category.
Despite the victory and his team’s valiant performance on the defensive end of things, Izzo was much more concerned with what hadn’t gone right in the match up and told the media he was likely about to start cracking down.
“I need somebody to show some emotion,” Izzo said. “If it’s not what they want to do, this is not the right place for them.”
Regardless of coach Izzo’s concerns, Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s head coach George Ivory knew his team had been beat, and beaten badly. Taking a peek at the situation from the outside looking in, Ivory noted that the Spartans were a special team this time around.
“They came out with a lot of intensity and it changed up what we tried on offense,” Ivory said. “We got some shots, we just didn’t make them. But a lot of it had to do with the pressure Michigan State was putting on us.”
Coach Ivory did have a chance to doll out some praise for one of his own, though: Golden Lions’ DeVon Haynes, a Detroit-native, who scored a season-high 20 points in the effort–all of which he netted in the second half.
In the end, Izzo was not happy with his team’s game play and he made it known. Beating down on a team like AR-Pine Bluff is one thing, but sloppy offense won’t win you any big time games later in the season when your back is against the wall.
“Coach wasn’t happy at all,” MSU’s Trice said. “We weren’t, either. We were disappointed in ourselves. That’s not the way we play. You can’t relax like that. We’ve got bigger things to play for.”
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