It was the first time Gary Harris walked on the floor before a regular-season crowd at Breslin Center. And even in less playing time than he’s becoming accustomed to, the freshman guard made an impact that won’t soon be forgotten.
Harris scored a game-high 19 points to go along with 13 points from sophomore Branden Dawson, as the No. 21 Spartans (2-1) routed Texas Southern (1-3) 69-41 on Sunday in the team’s regular-season home opener.
The game marked another strong performance for Harris, who notched 18 points in the team’s 67-64 upset victory against No. 7 Kansas last week. But for Harris, the credit for the strong home debut, along with the growing confidence within the offense, belongs to the roster of players around him.
“I feel like I’m pretty comfortable out there,” Harris said. “These upperclassmen made it easy for me to transition (to MSU) — watching film and giving me different tips and helping me out in areas where I’m having trouble. I give a lot of credit to the older guys for helping me grow as a player.”
On the strength of several crafty passes by Denzel Valentine, the Spartans rallied to a 17-4 run in the first half to open up a double-digit lead and seize control of the game.
The freshman guard Valentine got the Breslin crowd fired up with a big first-half dunk and again when finding fellow freshman Matt Costello in the paint on a no-look pass for a quick bucket in the half.
Valentine finished the game with eight points, five assists and three rebounds in the winning effort.
But even after handily defeating the Tigers in the team’s home debut, head coach Tom Izzo was not without criticism of the Spartans’ effort.
“Not a very great performance,” Izzo said. “We are still in a stage where we are trying to figure out who will be in our playing group.
“I have too many guys jacking shots right now, and the guy that should be taking more, which is (junior guard) Keith Appling, is not. I felt like Appling and Gary Harris played really well together. Other than that, we were a little dysfunctional because of the number of guys.”
The Spartans controlled the pace of play for much of the afternoon, earning a 46-10 advantage in points in the paint, including ferocious dunks by Payne and Dawson in the second half to cap a dominating effort. As a team, the Spartans shot 46.7 percent from the field, compared to 21.1 percent by Texas Southern.
With a busy week approaching, Appling said there’s plenty for the Spartans to work on when moving through the nonconference season.
The Spartans host three more games at Breslin Center during a four-game homestand, starting with an 8 p.m. matchup with Boise State on Tuesday.
And for Appling, the team’s still very much a work in progress, despite the big win on Sunday.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Appling said. “We got a lot of new guys that are still trying to learn our system, so like I said, it’s a work in progress. I feel like we’ll get better as the season progresses.”