Aaron Henry. Now you see him. Now you don’t.
The sophomore forward has stepped beyond the two-foul curtain more occasionally than he or coach Tom Izzo would’ve liked in his budding East Lansing tenure.
“I felt like I did okay, other than those two cheap fouls I got early,” Henry said following Michigan State’s 87-69 victory over Michigan on Sunday.
This sentiment is a common one for Henry this season and one that proved fatal in losses to Texas Tech in the Final Four last year and Kentucky at Madison Square Garden to open this season.
Henry did post a productive second half Sunday, salvaging a two-point first half showing to record six points and eight rebounds.
As usual, Henry flashed his skill in the high post as a catalyst, slashing and jump-stopping through Michigan’s big men.
If his performance came on a night where his point guard, senior Cassius Winston, didn’t record a career-high 32 points, this sentiment might’ve glared through yet another crucial matchup. Henry recognized the gravity of his early foul trouble Sunday.
“Just knowing that I can't get those two fouls in the first place," Henry said. “Then just being able to be mature and bounce back from that is what … I grew from recently, and in that Kentucky game it was really important and it was even more important today.”
Izzo’s firm belief in deferring two-foul players to the second half is a widely contested one, but the 25-year head coach acknowledged a potential contradiction to his philosophy at a Tuesday presser.
"Aaron Henry, I'm going to have to start figuring I'm going to have to play guys with (two) fouls in the first half,” Izzo said.
“There's no right answers. The right answer is Aaron's got to quit getting stupid fouls. We knew him guarding (Michigan point guard Zavier) Simpson there's a chance he’s going to get in some foul trouble. The two fouls he got, he wasn't even within 10 feet of Simpson," he said.
The realistic medium is that Henry will continue to be hampered defensively if he plays with three-plus fouls or stunted offensively if he attempts to recover game flow in the second half after sitting with two.
Winston elevates others with his floor presence, but for this Michigan State team to become as formidable as once thought, Henry must be available for a full 40 minutes.
The then-freshman exceeded all expectations in his understudy role of senior guard Joshua Langford last season. While Henry cannot totally replace the arsenal that the former McDonald’s American possessed, especially from the outside, he’s proven his midrange ability as sufficient — if not better. Henry's 55.1% two-point shooting this season, on 4.9 attempts, bettered Langford's 2018-19 figure by nearly eight percentage points.
His court vision has also stood out.
“It's the difference between actually thinking about it and doing it,” Henry said. “It's been coming slowly but surely for me. But you know, no pressure on it and I’ll just keep playing up to the coaches' expectations.”