Sunday, April 21, 2024

Randolph steps up

Freshman center plays well against OSU shot blocker

January 22, 2001
MSU forward David Thomas gives teammate sophomore guard Jason Richardson a hand during the second half of the game against Ohio State on Sunday at Breslin Student Events Center. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes 71-56. —

It only took freshman center Zach Randolph less than five minutes of play in Sunday’s win over Ohio State to realize it would be a crash course in “Humility 101.”

Luckily the McDonald’s High School All-American earned a passing grade.

After connecting on his first shot - a layup from sophomore forward Adam Ballinger - Randolph received a look from freshman guard Marcus Taylor two feet from the rim, only to see it smacked away by Buckeyes center Ken Johnson.

Randolph said he knew he had to play tougher and alter some of his shots after the block to fair well against Johnson.

“I knew I had to keep going at him,” Randolph said. “That was my first time playing against a guy like him, so it was definitely a learning experience. In my opinion Ken Johnson is the best shot blocker in the country.”

MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he was pleased with Randolph’s ability to learn how to adapt his game in particular situations.

“Zach at times learned a few lessons about getting shots blocked and also hitting a few,” said Izzo of Randolph’s 14 points and career high-tying 10 rebounds in the win. “I think he did a pretty good job of taking the ball right at (Johnson). That was our game plan.”

Izzo said he also was impressed with Johnson, the Big Ten’s top shot blocker, averaging over four blocks per game. Johnson finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds and six blocked shots.

“His offensive skills in a year have really improved, he’s jumped to a whole new level,” said Izzo of the Detroit native’s development.

With their experienced mentor, senior forward Andre Hutson, sidelined with pneumonia and expected to miss Wednesday’s game at Northwestern, Izzo said it was beneficial having his lesser experienced frontline players seeing more playing time.

Redshirt freshman forward Adam Wolfe, redshirt freshman center Jason Andreas and sophomore forwards Al Anagonye and Adam Ballinger all saw action in Saturday’s win.

“I think this will help us some (having less experienced frontline players playing well), but I want to get this whole team together and get everyone playing together,” Izzo said. “That’s been pretty difficult this year. I think we’ve been a little out of sync because we’re not getting as solid of play all around.”

Ballinger, who started in place of the sidelined Hutson, said he credits MSU’s early efforts in the first half in containing the 6-foot-11 center to only four shot attempts. Ballinger added 10 points and two rebounds in the win.

“I think we tried to take it right at him, but we just didn’t realize how good of a shot blocker he really is,” Ballinger said. “In the first half I think we really hurt him, but in the second half they started adjusting their plays.”

Ohio State head coach Jim O’Brien said MSU’s defense was able to limit scoring opportunities for Johnson, who was held to four points in the first half while only receiving the ball five times in scoring position.

“They guard so tough, it was really hard for us to get a whole lot going on offense,” O’Brien said. “Disappointedly, we’re trying to throw the ball in to Ken (Johnson) and he gets 10 shots, but he doesn’t get any free throws and we really needed to try and get him to the foul line.”

Anagonye, who Izzo said “was sicker than a dog” during and after the game, was pleased with the frontline’s play on both sides of the ball against Johnson.

“Just like any good shot blocker, you have to take the ball right to his chest, that’s what we did.” said Anagonye, who contributed with four points and three rebounds. “Sometimes we hit those shots, sometimes we didn’t, but the effort against him was there.”

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