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Freshmen step up play in win over Detroit

November 13, 2001

After a miss midway through the second half, drawing shouts of “air ball” from the crowd, Detroit-Mercy guard Greg Grays shook his head Monday night at Breslin Center.

Grays, a Southfield native, scored 24 points to lead the Titans on Monday night, but the rebuilding MSU men’s basketball team gave him one more reason to shake his head by the end of the night. With superior rebounding, MSU handed Grays’ team an 80-70 loss, marking the first time in four games his Titans would fall to the Spartans.

MSU took the lead early going up 7-2 a minute and a half into the game.

“Our plan was to just get the ball and just keep going, keep playing, it was no surprise,” junior forward Al Anagonye said.

But the 10-point MSU win was rather anticlimactic, considering head coach Tom Izzo had never beat the Titans in his career before Monday.

The most recent Spartan loss to Detroit came at the teams’ last meeting Dec. 13, 1997, when Detroit edged out an MSU team that included such Spartan notables as guards Mateen Cleaves and Antonio Smith.

The year before, Detroit took MSU into triple overtime before defeating them 86-84.

But Monday night, the Spartans took control early and kept the Titans from ever taking the lead, surprising Izzo, who had doubts before the game about how the new team would play against the more experienced Titans.

“I didn’t really like the game at first because I didn’t think we were ready to play that level of opponent,” Izzo said.

Despite the fact that none of the players on the court were around for the last meeting of the two teams, the rivalry still held a certain level of charm for the teams.

“There was definitely a lot of talk about it,” Grays said. “But none of the guys on our roster had been involved in it, so we didn’t know how intense the rivalry would be.”

Additionally, the team kept the home-winning streak alive in the face of the team that gave them its last home loss on Dec. 13, 1997.

And almost as an answer to the skeptics of the offseason, the Spartan freshmen gave their input, including guard Chris Hill who posted two three-pointers after the Titans decreased MSU’s lead to four.

“(Marcus) Taylor had talked to me and said, ‘I’m looking for you, I’m looking for you,’” Hill said. “And that helps a lot confidence-wise to know your point guard when you’re ready to shoot.”

And with the freshmen stepping up into solid playing roles, the team showed a depth it wasn’t expected to have.

“You know, that’s kind of ironic,” Hill said. “With three freshmen, we’re going to make some mistakes and we just have to make sure we’re playing hard all the time.”

Although, Izzo said, the freshmen still have a thing or two to learn about basketball at the collegiate level.

“Fast break points, we got two,” he said. “We need stallions running the lanes - we have plow horses.”

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