After going 29-5 and making it to the Elite Eight of the 2007 Division II NCAA Tournament last season, the Grand Valley State Lakers were anything but under the radar.
Hearing this game being dubbed as an upset might be so, but the Lakers came to play on Friday night and the Spartans chose to experiment.
Although the Spartans have more talent and skill, the Lakers are a veteran group (four returning starters) that came close last year in upsetting the Spartans and this year they got it done, 85-82 in double-overtime.
"We're really excited because we have so much respect for Michigan State's program," said Lakers coach Ric Wesley. "Every day I come into work and I tell our guys our model for excellence is Michigan State."
The Lakers relied on their leading scorer, Jason Jamerson, and stuck to their strengths, which was going to their big-man inside, Callistus Eziukwu.
Jamerson led the team with 19 points, Justin Ringler scored 16, and Eziukwu scored 15, 6 of which came in extra time.
"I think we played one of the best Division II teams in the country. And no one should let off us because we shouldn't lose a game or play with that ineptness," said coach Tom Izzo. "I think they made us play that way, so I think the credit should go to them. They out-rebounded us. They out-defended us. I think they out-worked us."
Meanwhile on the Spartans' side, despite returning all five starters and eight of its top nine scorers, it was more of an experimental game for Tom Izzo and MSU.
With four new freshman on the team, Izzo played many different lineups incorporating everyone, getting a feel for what works and what doesn't.
After starting the game with last year's typical starting five: Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton at guard, Raymar Morgan at small forward, Goran Suton at power forward, and Marquise Gray at center, Izzo went with a three-guard lineup, with Neitzel, Walton, and freshman Kalin Lucas playing beside Morgan at the four and Suton, Gray and Drew Naymick rotating at center.
"We had some of the most bizarre lineups in there," said Izzo. "All in all, I learned something about my players. I learned something about myself. We'll get better as the weeks go on."
Also, it is rare to see All-American guard Drew Neitzel have such a down game shooting the ball, and it is not something for fans to get used to seeing. Neitzel is a clutch shooter and this game will not affect his shot heading into the regular season.
"There were great spots for us. There were three freshmen that I thought played very well. I'm not sure there's many nights when Drew goes 3-for-15. But it happened and nobody picked it up," said Izzo.
There were several positives for the Spartans in this game. They showed fire and came through in an intense game, coming from behind for much of the second half and overtimes. The game gave them a great taste of the intensity and thrill that a high stakes Big Ten conference game would be like later in the season.
Freshman Chris Allen led the Spartans with 15 points and another freshman, Kalin Lucas scored 12 points as well. Lucas showed off his passing skills, driving the lane, pulling up and feeding Drew Naymick, who drove the lane for a thrilling dunk in overtime.
As the players auditioned for Tom Izzo in hopes of earning playing time or a starting job in the regular season, the closer the team is to permanency, the more they players will get used to playing with the same group of guys on the court, which will as a result help the chemistry and camaraderie of the team.
But by no means is Michigan State in trouble after dropping this game.
So despite the loss, the fact remains it was only an exhibition contest, and the Spartans have another exhibition game coming up on Wednesday against Michigan Tech to gear up for their regular season opener against Chicago State on November 13.
No Need To Panic After Loss To Grand Valley
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