Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Lorbek leading balanced attack

Freshman tops 'U' in 3 categories so far in tournament

March 26, 2003
MSU freshman forward Erazem Lorbek pushes Florida forward David Lee in the face while looking up at the basket during the first half of the MSU vs. Florida game Sunday in Tampa, Fla. —

Freshman forward Erazem Lorbek can now make three additions to his résumé - Buffalo tamer, Gator slayer and blissfully aloof hero of MSU's first two NCAA Tournament games.

The soft-spoken Ljubljana, Slovenia, native has quietly helped MSU past No. 10 seed Colorado and No. 2 seed Florida to the Sweet 16, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and steals.

Against the Buffaloes, Lorbek scored 17 points, grabbed five rebounds and tallied two steals and a blocked shot. Against the Gators, he turned in a 12-point, seven-rebound performance.

Lorbek's reaction to his new-found position near the head of coach Tom Izzo's class? As calm, cool and collected as a seasoned veteran.

Izzo sat Lorbek down before the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments to describe to his freshman forward the pressures, excitement and glitz of the postseason in college basketball. And the composed manner in which Lorbek has engineered his game suggests he listened up.

"Coach told us freshmen to play as hard as we can, show all our efforts," Lorbek said. "He's been hard sometimes, especially on us freshmen but I've improved a lot."

Although he's becoming a campus favorite for his improved play last weekend and animated facial expressions on court, Lorbek might have no bigger fan than Izzo himself.

"With Lorbek, he's probably our most versatile player," Izzo said. "He can step out and get a three. He can penetrate.

"He's especially good on defense."

Especially improved.

Lorbek's question mark heading into his freshman season was how he would defend down low against some of the Big Ten's low-post bangers. His defensive performance in the first two rounds has assuaged any concerns.

"He brings a lot of intangibles to the game," Izzo said. "I think we're going to need him to play the way he's been playing."

And falling in line with some of the tougher Spartans of MSU lore, Izzo loves a player who's tougher on himself than anyone.

"What I really love about him, is he gets mad at himself," Izzo said. "When he misses a shot, you can tell he gets upset.

"He does have the damnedest facial expressions."

Aside from Izzo's tutelage, Lorbek has found a mentor over the course of the season - his near-polar opposite on the team, sophomore guard Kelvin Torbert.

On the surface, the two couldn't be more different. Torbert is a chiseled 6-foot-4 guard from Flint. Lorbek is a lanky, towering eastern European.

Differences aside, Torbert said preparing Lorbek for the postseason stretch has been nothing but "fun."

"Playing with a guy with overseas experience, it can help your team," Torbert said. "If you can teach him the ropes a little, it makes your team better."

As MSU prepares for its Sweet 16 matchup with No. 6 seed Maryland on Friday in San Antonio, it's becoming apparent that Lorbek is a vital cog in the Spartans' postseason machine.

Should he keep up the overall game he displayed in Tampa, Fla., Lorbek should be able to palate the competition in San Antonio this weekend. Just hold the hot sauce.

"They've got spicy food," Lorbek said of the few things he knows of Texas. "I don't like that too much."

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