MSU's freshman class fills void of Harris as Spartans roll
In front of the home crowd at the Breslin Center, MSU men’s basketball experienced its ninth lineup against Nebraska, the latest swap because of the hole left by injured fifth-year senior guard Eron Harris.
Now that Harris is gone for the season, head coach Tom Izzo required his team to raise its level of play — and the freshman class appeared to take that to heart.
MSU defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 88-72, and holds a record of 17-11 overall, 9-6 in the Big Ten.
To fill the fifth starting spot, Izzo elected to go with the hot hand as of late, senior guard Alvin Ellis III.
“I didn’t like the way he responded in the beginning,” Izzo said. “He turned it over I think three times in the first couple of minutes. I told him before the game, I said, ‘The first shot might go into the two, but don’t be cool and casual because I know you’re excited. You better be excited. You’ve waited a long time to start.’ But I still think he was solid.”
Ellis had a rough night on the stat sheet — three turnovers on 1-for-6 shooting from the floor for seven points.
The big jump in production came from freshman guard Joshua Langford.
While Ellis filled the extra starting spot, freshman forward Miles Bridges said Langford was the focus before the game because he plays like Harris the most.
Setting a new career-high with 17 points, Langford attacked the basket on command. He shot 50 percent on looks inside the paint while shooting 25 percent from the 3-point line.
"Well Josh definitely took a giant step," Izzo said. "The last couple of days he has been sick. Early in the week he missed some of practice throwing up and everything. He was pretty sick and then bounced back and had a really good practice yesterday."
Alhtough Harris can't lead on the court anymore, his presence in the locker room is still noted. Freshman forward Nick Ward said Harris is the type of leader where no words can be exchanged, but players know what to do based on how he looks at them.
Bridges said on Instagram, the rest of the season is dedicated to Harris.
“Eron, he would have told me I need more rebounds but, the rest of the season is for Eron,” Bridges said. “He gave his all to this program, he did all he could and we’re just trying to win it for him.”
Langford gave his sentiments after the game as well.
“Eron is like a big brother to me, blood couldn’t make us any closer,” Langford said. “With him being out, it just brought an extra fire to me, just to send him out the right way because he can’t do anything on the court now so I have to do it for him.”
The freshman class as a whole stepped up their game in the absence of Harris. In total, the four freshmen combined for 64 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists.
Bridges and Ward are the first MSU freshman duo to score 20+ points in the same game since Earvin 'Magic' Johnson (31) and Jay Vincent (22). pic.twitter.com/IJZBbxSWFD— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) February 24, 2017
While MSU led by 20 points for much of the game, Izzo had mixed reactions in his post-game press conference.
Izzo said he will not be comfortable with this team all season because MSU men's basketball has gone through many peaks and valleys.