Anytime a coach throws freshmen into the madness of March, its a gamble. But the Spartans left Memphis, Tenn., holding all the chips.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he never thought twice about playing freshmen guard Marcus Taylor and center Zach Randolph their normal minutes in their first NCAA Tournament.
And why should he? The duo combined to average 18.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists during the regular season.
Randolph said the pressure of playing in the NCAA Tournament is exactly what he was looking for when he decided to come to MSU, and Memphis wasnt a disappointment.
Its crazy, he said. I just love the atmosphere. Its a bunch of great players. Youve got to come with your game on.
Against No. 16-seed Alabama State on Friday, Randolph looked like he was born to play in the national spotlight, scoring 12 points and grabbing five rebounds in 23 minutes.
More impressive was his perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, where most freshmen show their inexperience.
I know what I want to do, Randolph said. Its all about winning. Thats why we have to come out focused every game.
Against No. 9-seed Fresno State on Sunday, Randolph still looked good, but timid. He finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, with three rebounds, two assists and one block.
Almost as if they were taking turns in the spotlight, Taylor shined against the Bulldogs after getting off to a slow start against the Hornets.
He finished Sundays game with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, with just one turnover.
Taylors ability to pull up and sink medium- to long-range jump shots, as well as handle Fresno States constant pressure defense, was the kind of play a coach would expect from a senior, not a freshman.
Im starting to see what its all about, Taylor said. Last year I was just watching the tournament. Its a lot different when youre in the tournament.
Now Im playing for a championship. Its one game and youre out, and nobody wants to go home.
Izzo said the play of his freshmen was very pleasing. He said experience in the NCAA Tournament is the best - if not only - teacher for freshmen.
When you get to the NCAA Tournament you have to turn it up a notch, he said. For the most part, I think Marcus and Zach did fine.