After moving over Michigan State’s 29-point loss to Purdue at his weekly presser Tuesday, coach Tom Izzo announced that fifth-year senior forward Kyle Ahrens will be out indefinitely.
“Kyle Ahrens will be out for a while,” Izzo said. “It's just been so hard to have him practice, not practice, have him in the lineup, not in the lineup. So really it was a decision made by me. I just think he's broken down.”
As Izzo noted, Ahrens fluctuated in and out of the lineup, seemingly spending more floor time with trainers than with teammates. This was true for the fifth-year man’s recovery last year, most notably in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game.
This decision came after Ahrens played in 16 games but averaged 12.8 minutes per game, a more minor share of time that Izzo would’ve expected for the forward at the season’s beginning, but is now loosely diagnosed with an "achilles/ankle thing."
“At the beginning of the year, we put all our minutes on the board where we thought this guy would play, this guy would play,” Izzo said. “We went down the list, and of course (senior guard Joshua Langford) was 31 to 32 minutes again, (senior guard Cassius Winston) was 32 to 33, (junior forward Xavier Tillman) was maybe 30. And Kyle Ahrens was in the 20s. ... That's 50 to 55 minutes out of the lineup that we thought would be anchors as a senior and a fifth-year senior.”
Especially with Langford ruled out for the season, the Spartans will miss Ahrens' shooting ability from the outside, as he posts a 35.5% on 31 attempts.
Just as Ahrens' injury in the Big Ten title game last season against Michigan inspired his roommate Matt McQuaid’s “I’m about to go off” promise, his presence is one sophomore forward Gabe Brown reflected after Tuesday practice.
“It’s going to hurt us a little bit, but then again players have to step up for Kyle because Kyle put a lot into this program,” Brown said.
“He’s one of our brothers and we feel for him going down, but we have to pick it up for him.”
This notion is reminiscent of the similar theme that plagued MSU last year, as Langford and Ahrens watched their team’s demise on the elevated floor in the Final Four against Texas Tech.
The silver lining points to young pieces like freshman guard Rocket Watts, who has flashed a respectable midrange game of late, with time remaining for significant growth come March.
Watts entered a more meaningful role than initially expected, just as Aaron Henry, who too shows room for growth in his role, did last year.
"He's coming," Izzo said. "Rocket gets down when he makes mistakes, too, like most freshmen. ... He missed that and not the practice time too. ... But Rocket now is practicing, as of last week."
So the Spartans again adjust as they sit at 5-1 in the precarious Big Ten.
"Just a guy that knows the system," Winston said of Ahrens. "Somebody that you’ve been playing with a long time, he knows how to play off of players. ... Things like that you are going to miss from him because he knows the system, he knows his road to perfection.”
Michigan State (13-4, 5-1 Big Ten) returns home to face Wisconsin (11-6, 4-2 Big Ten), as the Badgers have recorded road victories at Ohio State and Penn State and a home win over Maryland over their past four games.
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