Michigan State got its exhibition portion of the basketball season under way Monday and it came with the usual ups and downs of early season basketball.
Denzel Valentine was a bright spot with a game-high 24 points. Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes showed off his shooting tough. Branden Dawson showed off his athleticism and the Spartans rolled 97-56 against Master’s College – and former Spartan Russell Byrd.
But the win also came with a reality for Michigan State: These games might be more needed this season.
”This gives us an opportunity to make mistakes – a lot of mistakes – and still come out with a W,” junior Matt Costello said.
The lesson learned was pretty simple: “It’s not going to be as easy as we thought,” Costello said.
“We have been playing very well together,” he said, “but we forget that youth does show and defensively, if you haven’t been playing together defensively, once you out there, it’s a whole different ballgame than in practice.
”It’s just something that we’ve gotta figure out working with each other, talking, switching, helping, tagging, stunting, just the little intricacies of the Michigan State defense. We’ve gotta figure that out come live game time to make it work.”
Offensively, the Spartans were clicking after a slow five seven minutes which saw Master’s College hit four 3-pointers. The Spartans took their first lead with Matt Costello’s jump hook with 13:02 to go in the first half before the Mustangs scored five straight and then Michigan State went on a 36-5 run to close the half.
The run was fueled by Forbes, who hit 4 of 7 3s in his debut with the Spartans. His high school teammate Valentine, who Izzo called “unbelievable,” hit 6 of 9 3-point attempts on the night.
But it was not the offense that had coach Tom Izzo concerned after the game, but the defense.
"We've worked harder on our offense than our defense for probably the first time in my career – and probably the last time in my career," he said. "My mother's 88 and she's here tonight and a couple of our two guards have got a one-on-one deal with her later on to see if they can guard her. We did not check very well. We just didn't guard anybody on the perimeter."
Byrd found plenty of shots – he took 22 – and had 22 points in his return to East Lansing, which featured a special introduction as he kissed the floor in a ceremony he did know was coming until gametime. He said was something he will remember for the rest of his life.
The starting lineup featured a surprise as walk-on Colby Wollenman got the nod over Matt Costello or Gavin Schilling. Izzo said the decision was due to Costello and Schilling, who he called two of his better students, having struggles in a class.
But on the court, the struggles were defensively for the Spartans and that is something that will be a focus moving forward.
“We just gotta get better defensively,” Dawson said. “We put up 97 points, so the shots were there. We know against a good team, we can’t take the chances we took in this game.
”We are just making adjustments. As far as the team, we have a lot of younger guys and a lot of new faces.”