Tom Izzo Starts Three Freshman and the Spartans Respond with a 71-64 Win Over Oakland!
East Lansing, MI
The Michigan State Spartans desperately needed a win. Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo sent a message to his older players by starting three true freshmen and energizing a Spartan team that gutted out a 71-64 win over Oakland. In fairness to Oakland, they literally played less than 24 hours earlier in a grind it out game; and the Spartans took it right to them.
The Spartans youngsters inspired their team and the veterans responded off the bench with a solid, albeit far from perfect win.
Freshman big man and crowd favorite Nick Ward lit up the scoreboard and played some of his best defense of the season. The Spartans big man had 25 points and nine rebounds. Eron Harris responded well to his benching, he was the only other Spartan to reach double digits in the scoring column adding 15 points and three rebounds.
Tom Izzo said of the tilt and the decision to start his freshman that, “I looked at some things. Some guys are more comfortable coming off the bench. We found out some things that will benefit us. As Nick is more comfortable playing more minutes we can do that. They are starting to learn how to get off the matt and respond and that is critical. Some guys found themselves tonight.”
The Spartans had a disappointing 18 turnovers, but they did win the battle of the boards 37-34. On the night the Spartans shot 48% from the field, 44% from three and still an unimpressive 65% from the line. The MSU bench led by the older players led MSU to this victory outscoring the Grizzlies bench 33-18.
Cassius Winston was impressive with the start dishing out eight assists and adding nine points. Winston also had three rebounds. MSU added 15 assists on 23 baskets Izzo said, “He got what he deserved which is nice to say.”
Perhaps the biggest stat of the night was Ward playing 25 minutes. As his conditioning improves, so do his minutes and his stats. The play of the game was one that won’t make the ESPN Top Ten, but it should.
As the Spartans approached the first media timeout of the second half Ward played great defense. The Grizzly still scored besides a great effort from Ward, but the Spartan big hustled down the court to beat everyone down and had the shot at the layup and was fouled. It truly told the story of Ward’s development.
I asked Izzo about the play and he said, “Nick is an enigma. He was just never bale to do what he can do now. He can run and he can run hard. He can jump. A couple more free throws and it is a thirty point night. He is getting better. Nick does drive me certifiably insane and what I love about the kid is that he is getting better. At the end of each day I see him making progress. It is kind of fun and I know this game is important to him.”
Legendary Oakland head coach Greg Kampe offered no excuses when asked about playing less than 24 hours after another game and how it impacted his Grizzlies. “Doesn’t mean anything. It is college basketball. They are twenty years old. If you can’t play back to back you can’t play at this level.”
Izzo said, “It was a fist fight tonight. They are kind of like a Big Ten team. We played the hardest that we have played in a while. That is encouraging. We are still having times that we are playing hard enough, but not smart enough.”
I asked Kampe about this Spartan team that so many fans and media are bemoaning. “There are a lot of talented players out there. For people to sit and say that crap about them is ridiculous. This is a gold standard program coached by the best coach in college basketball. All this is going to do is make them better. They will be there in March. They are no bubble team, I guarantee you that they will be there in March.”
The Spartans next game will open Big Ten play on December 27 in Minneapolis against the Gophers. You can see that game on BTN and it tips off at 7:00 PM. With tonight's win the Spartans improve to 8-5.