MSU basketball focused on not overlooking Maryland-Eastern Shore
The 9-0 MSU Spartans will showcase their top ranking for the first time Wednesday night against the 1-7 Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks at Breslin Center. It is the team's first No. 1 ranking since the 2013-14 season, back when captains Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine where just sophomores.
“Sophomore year, it was a different team then,” Costello said. “Different group of leaders, different chemistry, we weren’t as close, so it was a lot harder to get a judgement on how guys were and how we are doing. This year, I think we are a lot better at communication and figuring out what each other are doing.”
That team finished 29-9 with a Big Ten Tournament title and an appearance in the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. That team started out 18-1, and this squad has a chance to start out similarly — if the mindset is there.
“We are just going to have to be ready to take everybody’s best shot, but we’re not backing down either,” Valentine said. “We are going to work harder and know that we got to come and step our game up now that we are number one.”
A crucial part to every teams' success is point guard play, and the play of Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. has been a key component to MSU’s early season success. The guard had games of 13 points and nine assists, as well as nine points and seven assists, during the team’s road trip to California, and has consistently played hard-nosed defense.
Nairn has been running the fast-paced offense and creating opportunities on offense for himself and others while dealing with plantar fasciitis, one of the more painful injuries in the sporting world. While he might not be in the gym as much as he would like, he recognizes his improvement on offense.
“Shooting is a skill, and that’s never been a big part of my game honestly,” Nairn said. “So I (need) to continue to work on it. I know I put in thousands of jumpers in the summer, but that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to come into every single game game and make every shot I take. But I’m going to keep shooting them and they are going to fall.”
As for Maryland-Eastern Shore, the Hawks have played tough competition all season, but currently sit at 0-2 in the MEAC. Regardless of record, MSU will not be taking them lightly.
“Tomorrow, it’s going to be a tough game, because it’s a Wednesday for one, and they’re not a top 25 team, so the normal state is to relax,” Valentine said. “I watched tape on them and they got some threats, they got some good players that can make some shots and they can spread the floor. If we don’t come in here ready to play, they get hot, start making threes and we get in foul trouble you never know what type of game you can be in.”
A big key for MSU facing Florida following the Hawks is to not look ahead. Last season, the Spartans fell at home to a heavy underdog in Texas Southern. It appears that MSU has learned its lesson.
“If we don’t bring it like we did against Texas Southern, then that’s on us,” Costello said. “That’s never happening again, we are bringing it every game.”