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Athletic Detroit-Mercy team wants to make it four-in-a-row over Izzo

November 12, 2001

It’s been a little more than seven months since the No. 15 Spartan men’s basketball team was on the floor.

For many of the Spartans, that’s been a long seven months.

“We need a game,” sophomore guard Marcus Taylor said. “We’re just ready to get started.”

Taylor and his fellow Spartans will get their wish when they tip-off the 2001-02 campaign against the Detroit-Mercy Titans in the first round of the Preseason NIT at 7 tonight at Breslin Center.

The Titans have beat head coach Tom Izzo’s teams three straight times in his first three years at the Spartan helm from 1995 to 1997. The three losses were by a combined seven-point margin.

“They had a good team then, and they have a good team now,” Izzo said.

But the Titans lost much of their scoring to graduation with the departure of standout guard Rashad Phillips and his 22.4 points a game.

Losing a key player such as Phillips makes scouting the Titans a little tougher, Izzo said.

“We can look at some film from last year, but when they’ve got one guy taking 25 shots and he’s not there - that changes things a lot,” Izzo said.

The Spartans have been preparing for Detroit-Mercy’s speed, athleticism and perimeter game in the practices leading to tonight’s season-opener.

“They are definitely quick, and they have a great shooter in Greg Grays,” Taylor said. “We have been working on pressuring up on guys and picking up their shooters and playing the penetration.”

The Titans have turned to guard Willie Green for scoring in their two exhibition games, wins against Argentina-Select and Wayne State. Green has led the Titans with 16 points and 15 points in the exhibitions, respectively.

The Spartans counter with Taylor, who tallied 19 points to lead the Spartans in their lone exhibition game, an 89-87 win over the Magic Johnson All-Stars.

Green leads a quick and athletic Detroit-Mercy team that will be eagerly looking to end the intra-state rival Spartans’ 44-game home-winning streak.

But sophomore center Jason Andreas said the Spartans are just as ready.

“We realize this is a big game for them, and they have probably had this game marked on their calendar for a while,” he said. “But at the same time, we’ve had this one marked on our calendars, too.”

Junior forward Adam Ballinger said it’s always crucial to start the season on a positive note.

“It’s huge. You get a couple wins at the beginning of the season, it kind of propels you,” he said. “If you go the other way with it, it’s tough to fight back.”

Ballinger said the Spartan big men will have to be careful not to pick up cheap fouls on the perimeter against such a quick team.

“Foul trouble is something we really can’t get into,” he said. “With guys that are quick, if they get us out on the perimeter, we’ve really got to make sure we move our feet.”

The Titans’ ability to force the Spartans into foul trouble could play a factor, Izzo said.

“That’s something that they present; they’re a very good dribble-penetration team,” Izzo said. “They’re a very athletic team, and they create some problems.”

For freshman guard Kelvin Torbert, it’s just a little extra special to open the season playing in a tournament as prestigious as the Preseason NIT.

“We’re really excited to get out there and play a real game,” he said.

“This is the Preseason NIT Tournament, and if we can win a couple games we can go out there to New York and play for the NIT Championship.”

“It’s something you watch in high school, and it’s joy to be playing in it now.”

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