When Tom Izzo looked into the stands Friday night he saw something unusual: his mother wearing a sweatshirt with the opposing team’s colors.
It was a family affair for Izzo and the Spartans, as the head coach took on St. Cloud State, featuring his nephew, Kevin Levandoski at guard, and knocked off the Huskies 62-49 in the MSU men’s basketball team’s exhibition finale.
“I’ve probably got to disown my mother,” Izzo joked after the game. “I saw her wearing a red sweater and she doesn’t understand where the paycheck is coming from.”
It was an uneven performance for the Spartans, with turnovers and poor free throw shooting preventing MSU from pulling away from the Division II school for most of the game.
MSU shot 15-for-28 (53.6 percent) from the free throw line, turned the ball over 20 times and only managed to outrebound a much smaller Huskies team by four while allowing 10 offensive rebounds.
“We just did not guard like we have to guard and then I think that turned our offense into some problems,” Izzo said.
“We had some foul trouble with (junior forward Adreian) Payne and (sophomore guard Branden) Dawson and it kind of took guys guys out of it. Then we had to play (freshman guard Gary) Harris more and he cramped up a bit in the second half and he wasn’t quite as effective. And missing as many free throws as we did … it was like everything collapsed at once.”
After a back-and-forth game for most of the first half, a basket by senior center Derrick Nix gave MSU its first double-digit lead, 33-22, with 3:13 remaining in the first half.
Nix led four Spartan scorers in double figures with 14 points along with seven rebounds, and Payne notched a double double with 11 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
But the Spartans were unable to score for the rest of the period, heading into halftime with just a seven-point lead.
“It’s definitely not the way we want to play,” Nix said.
“We missed a lot of easy shots and we didn’t compete on the glass as far as rebounding and that has to change. We’re about to play a UCONN team that’s a pretty good team, so we have to step it up.“
The Spartans were able to maintain a double-digit lead for most of the second half, but were never able to find the ball movement and comfort offensively that they were hoping for.
Junior guard Keith Appling finished with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists and said the struggles defensively ended up contributing to the inefficiency offensively.
“We just couldn’t get into a flow,” Appling said. “Shots weren’t falling, on the defensive end we struggled, so I think it was kind of a carry over, a snowball effect after the shots weren’t falling. Bad plays defensively, and that caused us to struggle the whole game.”
Despite being “disappointed,” with the way his team played, Izzo said the exhibition season helped him gain a better understanding of a variety of lineups and showed him the work his team still has to do.
“I’m not ready to panic on two exhibition games,” Izzo said. “I’m disappointed in how we played compared to how we practiced, but it is what it is. We’re just going to have to do some work.”