After taking one of the nation’s top teams down to the wire before falling short of the victory Sunday, there was little different about the way Tom Izzo spent his postgame press conference.
Nervous feet squirming under the table. Lengthy answers, frequently darting away from the topic of the question. Cautious criticism of his team, while sometimes lamenting an outcome that could have been.
But after weeks of criticizing the Spartans (17-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) for underachieving and playing down to the competition, Izzo said he saw his team rise to the challenge in a losing effort against then-No. 7 Indiana (18-2, 6-1).
Having watched the game film and reliving critical moments of Sunday’s 75-70 loss to the Hoosiers, it was a sentiment he again shared with the media Monday.
“We were not a great 17-3 team; we were a good 17-3 team,” Izzo said. “I thought some consistency was missing. Getting more than one or two guys to play well at the same time was missing. I told my guys after the game that we are a better 17-4 team than we were a 17-3 team.”
One player Izzo singled out for his performance was Gary Harris. The freshman guard scored a team-high 21 points in a hostile environment and broke through with his strongest showing since his career-high 22-point outing earlier in the month against Purdue.
It was a strong sign of recovery for Harris, who has been battling multiple shoulder injuries in his first season with the program.
“I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way Gary played, because he really played well defensively, ran the court well, made shots and he handled a difficult situation,” Izzo said.
Despite taking verbal shots from the Hoosier faithful all afternoon from, Harris found his stroke against Indiana.
“It was definitely a tough environment,” Harris said. “A lot of people. It was loud a lot of times. Great environment to play college basketball in.”
With Harris taking verbal abuse from Indiana fans Sunday, the question also was raised about how the Izzone would react to an opposing player in a similar situation.
Izzo said he would like the Izzone to show more tact than they have in recent weeks, especially in the way of the language being used.
“Well, I’m going to tell the Izzone to lay off with the vulgarity I’ve heard the last couple of games,” he said.
“No insult to anybody, but I don’t mind them getting on a guy. … Some of the things that are said are so low right now but in our freedom of speech of America.
“I mean, what do you want me to do, tweet them to settle down? You know, I feel for (Harris’) family but it’s probably that way and I’m going to encourage our people not to be that way.”