Thursday, May 23, 2024

Spartans hit the road again

November 28, 2001

The road gets no easier for MSU’s men’s basketball team.

Tonight the No. 22 Spartans play their third straight away game, this time against No. 9 Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at 7:30 p.m., in Richmond, Va.

The game will be shown on ESPN2.

Virginia (3-0), which uses a menacing press defense, will pose similar problems as MSU’s (2-2) recent basketball foes and could continue the storyline of the Spartans’ young season - lots of turnovers.

“They press well so we have to take care of the ball,” MSU sophomore guard Marcus Taylor said. “The last two practices we’ve been working on press offense, so if we keep the turnovers down I think we’ll be fine.”

And “fine” the Spartans, who are averaging 17.3 turnovers per game, need to be. MSU’s opponents have converted those turnovers into 77 points.

But after committing 26 turnovers against Syracuse in the Preseason NIT Semifinals on Nov. 21, the Spartans only let up 16 two days later against Fresno State.

That decrease needs to continue tonight, head coach Tom Izzo said, although he said he didn’t want to put too much pressure on his young team.

“I got to push them harder and not expect the world as I said I was going to,” Izzo said. “I do expect the world still, I expect the world of effort. And I have to understand that in some ways, I think we’re going to play better (today) than we’ve played. And I think we played better on Friday than we did on Wednesday and right now that is one of our main factors to see if we can get better every game.”

With a few second-half surges, MSU showed hints of toughness in the Preseason NIT, but junior forward Adam Ballinger said with the ranked teams the Spartans face, those surges can’t be momentary.

“I believe there can’t be anymore let downs,” Ballinger said.

“These last two games we played pretty well at times, we played well enough to win and we played well enough to get back and tie it. But then we have let downs, a minute long, two minutes long, whatever it was, then they got up by 10.

“Especially with a team like (Virginia) you can’t let that happen because they’re so quick and long. They’re going to score on you if you let them.”

The Virginia backcourt, which has a minimum height of 6-foot-5, should create trouble for MSU’s floor controllers, 6-foot-3 guards Taylor and freshman Chris Hill.

The Cavaliers return four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Their leading scorer is Roger Mason Jr., a 6-foot-5 guard who puts up 21.7 points per game.

Starting forward Chris Williams contributes 20.3 points per game.

“It’s going to be a challenge, they’re quick and athletic and tall and long,” Hill said.

“That not only causes a problem defending them, but defensively, they’re quick and that allows them to get in the passing lanes, and that’s something we’re going to have to be careful of.”

And with a road record of 0-2, getting a win in Virginia and proving it can play on the road makes this game more important than last week’s games in New York for MSU, Hill said.

“This will probably be an even bigger road test than playing in Madison Square Garden,” Hill said. “That was different for us, we’re not used to not having the crowd behind us and everything. We didn’t have that in New York and it’s going to be even worse down in Virginia because they’re going to have their crowd, and it’s going to be more of a college-type atmosphere.”

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