It certainly wasn’t a pretty showing by the No. 12 MSU men’s basketball team Wednesday at Breslin Center. But in Gary Harris’ case, he was content it was happening at all.
Each time down the floor against No. 18 Minnesota was met with a grimace marking the lingering pain of yet another injury to the freshman guard.
After suffering back spasms that forced him to leave last week’s 80-75 victory over Illinois, Harris has been limited in practice for much of the week, struggling to regain his trademark athleticism.
Yet even in facing some of the worst pain of his life, Harris refused to come off the floor.
A gutsy performance by the Fishers, Ind., native fueled a 21-4 second half surge, allowing the Spartans (19-4 overall, 8-2 Big Ten) to overcome an ugly offensive first half and defeat the Golden Gophers (17-6, 5-5), 61-50.
Harris finished the game with a team-high 15 points, while doing all he could manage to stay in the game and will the Spartans to a much needed conference win. After the game, Harris said the key to his success was staying in and remaining engaged in the action.
“I didn’t want to come out because I knew it was going to get worse,” Harris said. “I just wanted to stay on the court as much as possible and keep it as loose as possible.”
Head coach Tom Izzo said allowing Harris to play was a decision he left up to his young guard, given his previous experience with multiple shoulder injuries this season.
And after watching Harris continue to make shots in uncomfortable circumstances, Izzo said the performance was nothing short of a “heroic effort.”
“He couldn’t even run his back was hurting him so much,” Izzo said. “Normally, I would take a kid out who is hurting but it was a muscle and not skeletal, so it’s just a matter if you can deal with the pain.
“I kept asking him if he was good to go, and thankfully, he is smart enough to say yes because I don’t know what we would have done at that point.”
The team faced a varying degree of injuries Wednesday including to junior guard Keith Appling (shoulder), center Adreian Payne (bloody nose) and sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson (ankle). Appling and Payne each left the floor to return to the locker room to be attended to while Dawson spent some time resting his ankle on the bench during the first half.
Appling did not return to the game once he emerged from the locker room. But Appling said it was more a precautionary measure than his inability to play.
“I was trying to get open and it just kind of popped out of place, but it eventually slid back into place,” Appling said. “Right now, I feel pretty good. I could have played but they didn’t want me to go back in the game.”
The Spartans also were without sophomore guard Travis Trice, who took a shot to the head against the Fighting Illini. Trice previously suffered a concussion and a broken nose this season against Connecticut.