Before the No. 19 MSU basketball team took the floor Wednesday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Tom Izzo vowed he’d have a much fairer evaluation of his team than he did on Saturday against Nicholls State.
But even after the No. 19 Spartans thoroughly routed the Golden Lions on Wednesday evening at Breslin Center, the veteran head coach didn’t like what he saw.
Freshman guard Gary Harris led the way with 13 points while sophomores Branden Dawson and Travis Trice each finished with double-digit points, as the No. 19 Spartans (7-2) routed Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 76-44. The Spartans never lost the lead in the game, leading by as much as 37 points, and carrying the momentum for much of the way on their home floor.
Yet the Spartans finished the game with 19 turnovers and were lethargic, at times, which Izzo said contributed to his irritation in his team’s showing against the Golden Lions.
“I wasn’t pleased with the game at all,” Izzo said. “ I thought there were moments we moved the ball well, moments we got the ball inside out well, moments we checked well, moments we went to the offensive glass real well, but a lot of moments when what we did was not acceptable at all.”
Following the team’s victory against Nicholls State, Izzo said he expected a much better showing from the Golden Lions in an effort to evaluate where his squad is at this point of the year. And in early in the game, it appeared the assessment would be a positive one.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff couldn’t get on the scoreboard for the first 10 minutes of the game, in what was a combination of poor shooting and a dominating Spartan defense. As a team, the Golden Lions made just four field goals on 26 attempts in the half.
The Spartans opened the game on a 14-0 run, as part of a 30-4 start, to jump ahead of the Golden Lions and went into the locker room ahead 38-12.
Still, turnovers were an issue that outshined the defensive effort, as the team finished with 10 in the half.
“We did a pretty good job to be honest with you, but missing good shots and turning the ball over kind of made me not appreciate our defense,” Izzo said. “I’ll probably appreciate it more when we watch film.”
Despite a negative review by Izzo, the score didn’t get much prettier for Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the second half.
Junior guard Keith Appling chipped in seven points to go along with six apiece from sophomore Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd in the half to balloon MSU’s lead to as much as 37 points. Appling finished the game nine points, three assists and two steals in 25 minutes of action.
Appling was credited with two turnovers in the game, but picked up both on errant passes that were mishandled by other players early in the game.
However, Appling said he understands Izzo’s frustration because it’s something the team has been working on the entire season, and will need to improve before it opens up Big Ten play.
“We had 19 of them tonight and that was disappointing because that was one of the keys we wanted to focus on coming in,” Appling said. “We didn’t do a good job taking care of the ball.”
One particular area Izzo was pleased with was the play of Trice, who put together his best effort on the floor since returning from a concussion and broken nose suffered in the team’s regular season opener against Connecticut. Aside from his 12 points, Trice picked up five assists and a steal in a resurgent effort.
As far as what the team needs to work on moving forward, Trice said it’s improving the mentality the team takes to the floor on each possession, which starts with taking care of the basketaball.
“I’d be lying to you if I said you can just say we gotta play like we’re playing Kansas every night, but it’s hard,” Trice said. “That’s one thing where we gotta grow up as a team. we gotta play every game possession by possession. We can’t look at the score; we just gotta play possession by possession.”
The Spartans will go for their third win in a row when they get back in action at 2 p.m. on Saturday against Loyola-Chicago.