NEW YORK — One of No. 1 Michigan State's significant question marks heading into its season opener against Kentucky was who could step into the void at the '4' position in the starting lineup. Following the Spartans' 69-62 loss to the second-ranked Wildcats in the Champions Classic, that question still hasn't been answered yet.
But, coach Tom Izzo and his staff may now have more things to consider.
Sophomore Thomas Kithier was the starter, and scored seven points in almost 19 minutes. There were also true freshmen Malik Hall and Julius Marble, who combined for more fouls (four) than points (zero). And then there was Marcus Bingham Jr., who graduated from mop-up crew to an energetic role player off the bench against the Wildcats.
“Marcus definitely was a bright spot," Izzo said following the season-opening loss. "He played good, he played within himself.”
There were times Tuesday night when Bingham, a sophomore out of Grand Rapids, was more tired than usual. That comes at a cost after a career-high 17 minutes against Kentucky.
In 24 games last season, he averaged just one point and 1.1 rebounds in 3.5 minutes per game — all of which were topped Tuesday night against the Wildcats. Bingham finished with seven points, shooting 3-for-6 from the field. He had an energy and a flow to his game that Spartan fans never saw during his freshman season, where he played sparingly.
It wasn't all perfect. Two turnovers and finishing 1-for-4 from the free-throw line dampened the stat line.
“I feel like I could've done some more things to help the team win," Bingham said. "Hitting shots, my first one I think it was an air ball. I feel like if I could have knocked down a couple more shots, it would have changed the game.”
He entered the game for the first time when Michigan State's front-court depth was tested to its limit. Kithier already had two fouls. So did Hall, and Xavier Tillman was one foul away from joining them. When Bingham came in with just under 12 minutes to go in the half, he provided an immediate impact with an offensive rebound on the Spartans' next possession. A couple of possessions later, he scored his first basket on an alley-oop pass from Cassius Winston to tie the game at 16.
Bingham added a steal a couple of possessions later, and a block and six rebounds scattered throughout his time on the court.
“That's something that he can do on a continual basis because rebounding is all effort related," Tillman said. "Seeing him do that was big. It's kind of funny because in practice we were telling him, ‘Man, you don’t get up for rebounds.’ But then today he was getting boards like a man. It was really good to see.”
Izzo said there were plays in the second half that the Spartans tried to run through Bingham that were screwed up — some of which were due to his inexperience, which also made Tuesday's game a good stepping stone for further development this season.
“He had some good things," Izzo said. "The problem is the second half there were things you didn’t see that — I mean, hey, Marcus took a step forward. Let's put it that way. We still got a lot of work to do there.”
So, Bingham may not have proven that he is the answer at the 4-spot — yet. Izzo made that clear as well. But, he made a solid opening statement for himself in the running.
“I was just being patient," Bingham said. "I knew today could be a chance that I could show everyone that I could do more and show the coaches that I can bring that energy off of the bench. I feel like when I got my chance, I tried to help the team, give the team a little boost."