Despite a 5-0 in-conference record, Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo is entering the team’s road matchup against Purdue (9-7 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) on Jan. 12 anything but comfortably.
“If you look at the conference, in general not a lot of teams are winning on the road, so don’t get carried away,” Izzo said about the green and white’s first road game since Dec. 18 against Northwestern. “It’s going to be a tough environment with a team that really gets after you.”
Izzo expressed concern for the team’s freshmen and how they will handle only their second road game in the Big Ten, but there is one key that the 25-year head coach thinks the team needs to fall back on, and that is that “defense travels.”
“We did have a big road win against Seton Hall in a hostile environment,” Izzo said, reflecting on the little experience this Spartan team has away from home this season. “At least our guys know what it’s like, but it’s not going to be anything like what it’s going to be down in (Purdue home) Mackey (Arena).”
Purdue leads 69-55 in their all-time matchups with MSU. In their most recent competition in West Lafayette, the Spartans fell 73-63.
“Last year, even though we fell short, Mackey was probably the loudest arena I have been to, except for here,” sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr. said. “They have a really good team this year, and it’s going to be really exciting to play against some guys that I know from high school.”
Bingham referenced Purdue sophomore forward Trevion Williams as one of the players he knows from high school. The six-foot, nine-inch Chicago native led with a career-high 36 points in the Boilermakers' double-overtime loss at Michigan Thursday, and will be a main enemy for the Spartans in West Lafayette.
“Trevion, I just heard, had a really big night,” junior forward Xavier Tillman said. “So, just making sure that he’s got to work for everything, for his rebounds, for his points or for his assists, just make the game as difficult as we can for him.”
Izzo praised Williams as well, noting he is still debating which Spartan big he will put against the Purdue go-to especially with redshirt senior Kyle Ahrens still questionable to play as he recovers with a sore Achilles.
“I've loved Trevion since the day I didn’t sign him,” Izzo said. “I just love that kid, I loved him when we recruited him. He’s not only a good player, he’s really a good kid and I am happy to see his success.”
Despite Williams' dominance, as a team, the Boilermakers have been inconsistent in their shooting thus far this season. At Illinois on Jan. 5, Purdue shot a horrific 15 for 60 from the paint and 3 for 17 from three-point range, and at Nebraska they went 24 for 79 and 6 for 35.
However, on their home court, Purdue uses the Mackey energy to show a more experienced side of their roster, and the difference in their performance at home versus on the road is one that Izzo noted as "mind boggling, it was 20 points difference."
“I feel like I’m going to embrace it, take the challenge,” Bingham said. “Mackey, like I said, Mackey is a loud arena, Purdue’s a good team and they're even better at home, just looking forward to the challenge.”
The game tips at noon Sunday (CBS).