Freshman class rolls as Spartans, Izzo continue March dominance
TULSA, Okla. – For a student at MSU, the calendar year goes: January, February, Izzo.
The success in the month of March for MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo has been historic. He ranks fifth among active coaches for the best NCAA Tournament winning-percentage at .723, amassing a total of 47-18.
However, this season has been unusual for the Spartans. Their preseason injuries and youth have left Izzo in a tough situation. Just as the season looked over, his Spartans delivered a knockout punch in the first round for Miami (Fla.), 78-58.
The blowout came with the play of the freshman class. Nick Ward scored 19 points with seven rebounds and Miles Bridges scored 18 points with nine rebounds. In total, the MSU freshman class totaled 57 points, chipping in 19 rebounds.
Those 57 points were the most combined scored points by a freshman class in the NCAA Tournament in the school's history.
The team played with passion and determination because Izzo gave the freshman class a little extra motivation this past week, freshman guard Joshua Langford said.
Langford had an impressive day, scoring 13 points, 10 of which came on 4-for-5 shooting in the second half.
“I felt great,” Langford said. “I just wanted to come out and give my team a push and do my job. I think we did a great job defensively against Miami as well.”
Izzo’s motivation spread to guard Cassius Winston, who was trying to bounce back from the loss against Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Winston only played 12 minutes and made next to zero impact in that game.
In 22 minutes against the Hurricanes, he was much more involved, scoring seven points and dishing out five assists.
“This whole week he (Izzo) has been a mixture of a lot of love and a lot of getting after you,” Winston said. “We know what it feels like to be behind the eight ball. A lot of teams had us down … we know how to play with adversity.”
The team suffered a slow start to its game against Miami. After going down 12 points, the Spartans flipped a switch, going into halftime up by 11 points. In the second half, the freshman class continued to showcase their talent, Bridges posting a highlight reel putback dunk.
The postseason success of Izzo will have a grand challenge on Sunday. The Spartans will go to battle with the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks. If there is a reason to keep hope alive, it is Izzo’s record in the Round of 32, where he is 13-1.
In their first round matchup against UC Davis, the Jayhawks put up 100 points and won by 38 points. Senior Frank Mason III scored 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds, while freshman Josh Jackson scored 17 points with seven rebounds.
“It’s win or go home man,” junior guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. said. “Like coach always says, ‘You get a chance to work another day, you get a chance to work another day,’ and that’s all we want to do, get a chance to work another day.”
MSU's game against Kansas will take place on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. EST and televised on CBS Sports.