After star senior guard Cassius Winston went down with a bone bruise in his left knee during Friday’s practice, sophomore guard Foster Loyer learned at shootaround Sunday he would make his first-ever start against Western Michigan.
For a large portion of the season, it has been a question as to whether Loyer was ready and capable of providing the backup guard minutes off the bench, but now he stepped into an even larger role: filling Cassius Winston’s place.
He had a career night, but not because he tried to fill Winston’s role.
He played basketball the way that Foster Loyer plays basketball, being the general for his team's push. He made the most of his extended minutes, shooting high percentage shots and acting as a facilitator.
“Leaving the game, I felt pretty good about things," Loyer said. "It was nice to see a couple shots go in, it was nice to get some of my teammates involved and for them to shoot the ball like they did."
Loyer scored a career-best and team-high 16 points and six assists.
"Foster played very well. ... On the offensive end, he played very well," coach Tom Izzo said.
Loyer was efficient on the stat sheet but also impacted the game off book as well.
“When I’m out there I’m gonna be held to that standard of I need to be that leader on the team, be the vocal leader,” Loyer said. “I can’t go out there and get scored on, give up a three or whatnot. A lot of that has to do with communication, as the point guard it’s your job to make sure guys know who they have.”
In his extended minutes, Loyer treated it as an opportunity to get acclimated.
“I felt comfortable out there," Loyer said. "I think it’s just been important going in each and every day in practice feeling comfortable. Going out there and playing like the player I know I can be, going out there and making shots like I know I can make shots. Regardless of whether the shots went in tonight or not, I think just being aggressive, looking getting my teammates open and just being able to run our team I thought was real important.”
The confidence has always been there for Loyer, it has just been a matter of production. In his past few games, the work has started to shine through.
“I think I’ll always be confident in myself, but you know a lot of times it’s important to go out there and convey that to the rest of the group to play that way and just to play like I know I can,” Loyer said.
Loyer is treating the build up of confidence, experience and trust from his team as a chance to get ready for the challenge of conference play.
“Viewing it as an opportunity, knowing that it’s gonna be important for me to elevate my game, especially heading into the Big Ten season, just gaining some confidence, gaining some trust just being out there with our guys,” Loyer said.
The starting role may not be what Loyer has primed himself for this year, with Winston returning shortly, but the experience he gained was a valuable asset in his progress as a leader and player.
“It’s kind of tough to say where I wanted to be," he said. "I think you gotta take it day in and day out, and I think you gotta be realistic, but you also gotta take every opportunity you get. Go out there and try to get better, not only for yourself, but for your team."
Izzo said Winston could have played, and he may be back as soon as Thursday against Illinois. For Loyer, in returning to that backup role, he will have Sunday's performance to look back upon.
“It’s gonna be important moving forward being able to give Cassius that break, being able to help our team when I’m out there," he said. "I think these last couple games I’ve felt real comfortable, and it’s nice to see some shots go down, but that’s not the end all be all. Just to go out there and play the way I know I can play.”