Senior guard Travis Trice did not start for the first time this season as Izzo instead opted for freshman Tum Tum Nairn.
The reasoning was simple: Trice has been struggling of late, he has been under the weather and to establish a better rotation to provide balance.
”I just decided that between that and between the fact that we’ve got some rotation problems when we start the three shooters,” Izzo said referencing Trice and juniors Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine. “Now, we bring in Tum and maybe a guy like Alvin (Ellis) and all of the sudden we’re taking two shooters out.
The move, Izzo said following the Spartans’ 70-50 win against Indiana on Monday, is a temporary one. But a similar move could be more long-term to establish a better rotation.
The plan before the season was to start freshman Javon Bess with Trice and Valentine, giving MSU the scoring power of Forbes off the bench, but Bess has been coming back from foot surgery and a sprained ankle.
So Monday, Nairn got his first career start and responded with a career-high seven points.
”It’s an amazing feeling to start a game under Coach Izzo,” Nairn said. “Words can’t explain how I felt out there tonight. I’m going to play hard regardless of if I’m playing two minutes, 25 minutes or zero minutes. I’m going to give my all regardless, but it was a different feeling tonight.”
Nairn knocked down a pair of mid-range jumpers in the game, a shot he has hesitated to take in previous games. He said it is the result of confidence being instilled in him by his teammates and coaches – as well as knowing how opponents are playing him.
“I know how teams are going to play me now,” he said. “I know they are going to be sagging off. I know it’s going to be open for me and I just went in there with confidence and knocked them down.”
He also was charged with guarding Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell, who presents matchup problems with his quickness. Ferrell finished with 17 points, but Nairn was up to the challenge.
“Tum did a great job, especially with his first start against another great guard,” Trice said. “They’ve got a great backcourt. He did a great job and even being confident to step in and knock down a couple shots.”
Izzo expressed his pride in Trice for handling coming off the bench well, in addition to playing through an illness that has been plaguing members of the team. He finished with six points, seven assists and five rebounds.
”I love the way Trice responded, even though he didn’t shoot it very well,” Izzo said. “To play that many minutes as sick as he was, and to have seven assists to no turnovers I think spoke volumes.”
Moving forward it remains to be seen how the rotation will play out, but Trice said he was okay with the “benching” and knowing it was not long term. But he said the move made sense to give more balance to the lineups that will be on the floor.
“I think it’s good because sometimes we have lineups out there where we really don’t have any guys out there that can create and score without some help,” Trice said. “Other times we have all the guys who can do that on the floor at the same time. Creating that balance, that is what coach talked about and we just gotta find what works.”