Harris boosts passion, play in tournament

Sometimes it’s hard to know what Gary Harris is thinking.

A standout freshman guard out of Fishers, Ind., Harris has dazzled on the court in his first season, drawing comparisons to the greats. Yet, after 35 games of his rookie campaign, Harris still displays a quiet confidence, often mistaken for disinterest.

However, as the Spartans march along to a Friday matchup with Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament (9:45 p.m., CBS), MSU head coach Tom Izzo said Harris’ passion has been on display for the Spartans in postseason play.

Justin Wan / The State News

“You have to show your emotion,” Izzo said. “The flat-line thing, some people want to talk about, that’s cool. What’s cool about it, you know? “If it’s important to you, you’re going to see that it’s important. Gary is learning how to do that.”

Through two tournament games, Harris is averaging 16.5 points per game, including a team-high 23 points in a third-round win against Memphis. During the regular season, Harris averaged 12.9 points per contest, finishing third behind Earvin “Magic” Johnson (17.0) and Shawn Respert (15.8) for highest-scoring freshman in MSU history.

With MSU’s Sweet 16 and potentially Elite Eight action taking place in Indianapolis — less than a half hour from Harris’ hometown — Izzo said he expects there to be pressure playing so close to home, but it also could be a motivator.

As far as becoming more passionate, Harris said it’s part of the territory during March Madness.

“I’m going out there all the time and the intensity definitely has picked up,” Harris said. “It’s win or go home, so I feel like everyone has a little more emotion right now.”

Taking a glimpse across the practice floor at Breslin Center, there’s another quiet player like Harris with something to prove this postseason: junior guard Keith Appling.

Appling compared Harris’ personality to his own, making a point to note Harris often shows how he’s feeling through his play on the basketball court — a point Appling said Izzo might miss.

“Gary’s personality is very similar to mine, you know,” Appling said. “He’s a very, very quiet guy but I mean, when he’s out there on the floor, we make big plays as a team or he makes big plays for himself, and I see the emotion all the time.”

As the Spartans sit four wins from the program’s third national championship, Harris said he knows what’s on the line and will do what it takes to get where the team wants to go.

“Every shot is a little more important now,” Harris said.

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