DES MOINES, Iowa — Tom Izzo stood outside the locker room after Michigan State’s 76-65 victory over Bradley, and glared defiantly at a reporter. The question was about a moment during a second-half timeout when Izzo was screaming at freshman forward Aaron Henry about failing to get back on defense, and appeared to be physically restrained by junior point guard Cassius Winston.
Among other things, Izzo defended a method of coaching, and a way of life, that he sees as dying.
“What is wrong with challenging a kid that made some mistakes?” Izzo said.
Then he turned his attention to the media at large.
“You’d be the same people ... that if (I) didn't hold kids accountable, would be saying 'the inmates are running the asylum,'" Izzo said. "Aaron Henry, trust me, did some things you can’t do as a starter on a top 5 team at the end of your freshman year. And they were effort-related. So, he’s gonna get challenged.”
Henry, for his part, said he wasn’t concerned about the yelling, that it’s to be expected when you’re not doing your job.
"Coach Izzo kinda got into me, kinda slapped me in the face to raise my level of play," Henry said. "One of those days I gotta be better."
The freshman committed five turnovers and shot 3-7 from the field in 29 minutes. He was not substituted in the second half. However, with MSU leading 61-55 and 2:41 remaining, Henry made two straight plays.
He posted up on Bradley’s 5 foot, 10 inch point guard Darrell Brown and finished over him with a floater, then knocked down two free throws in a one-and-one situation to push the lead to eight points.
Izzo made sure to note those plays when asked about the challenge of coaching a talented freshman.
“I’d like to know how you’d treat your kids if they didn’t do what they’re supposed to do. ‘Oh, Johnny, that’s OK, go rob that bank!’ ... There must be a lot of talks between the head coach and the player ... because we turned right around and went to them in the post and he responded. So, maybe you should look a little deeper into 'what does it take.'”
The actual moment in question, one timeout tirade in the middle of a game where MSU was at risk of bowing out of the tournament’s first weekend for the fourth straight season, didn’t seem to be much in the moment. Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary.
“I mean, think about it,” he said. “(Izzo) has lost in the first weekend three times in a row and he wants to win. So he’s going to be very emotional. I think in the Big Ten tournament he was a little more heated than this.”
It was Winston’s reaction, of putting his hand on his coach’s shoulders to keep him away from Henry, that helped send social media, and eventually the postgame questions, that direction.
Izzo was extremely complementary of his point guard, who he named a captain midseason.
“I thought Cassius Winston did the best job of leading from when we walked in this building that he’s done in his career,” Izzo said. “You know why that happens? Because you stay on the task day after day after day. I’m so damn proud of that kid, because he did say stuff in the huddle, he did say stuff on the court.”
Tillman said, if anything, the yelling brings the team closer.
"It just helps us to regroup together," he said. "When we see somebody getting yelled at, we never want him to be alone, because then he feels like the world is against him. So, our job is to bring each other together when we get yelled at."
Izzo said he tries to strike a balance between breaking his players down and building them back up.
“You gotta have a feel for your team, and the only way you get a feel for them is to spend time with them,” he said. "And nobody spends more time with my team than I do. … I don’t have time to negotiate in a 40-minute game in a 30-second timeout. There’s not a lot of negotiating.”