Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: My frustrations mount as final stretch begins for MSU men's hoops

February 23, 2021
Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) shoots over sophomore guard Foster Loyer (3). The Spartans defeated the Illini, 76-56, at the Breslin Student Events Center on January 2, 2020.
Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) shoots over sophomore guard Foster Loyer (3). The Spartans defeated the Illini, 76-56, at the Breslin Student Events Center on January 2, 2020. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

I’ve written more sparingly this year than others, but in the pieces I’ve put out, I’ve assumed more of a fanatic perspective of Michigan State men’s basketball (11-9, 5-9 Big Ten).

I’ll continue to do more of the same. 

Watching this team, for the most part, has exhausted my spirit. After the first game of the season, I expressed my elation to see this team return to the court after months of nothing – no friends, no sports – nothing.

A first-ever regular-season victory over Duke – which I wrote was a great sign – was the icing on the cake. Then, of course, came the downward spiral we’ve witnessed since then. 

Until their 78-71 victory in Bloomington Sunday, I was proud to claim to have watched every MSU men’s basketball game, of course barring work, school or emergency, since UNC’s title game beatdown over MSU in 2009 at Ford Field.

I was on vacation Sunday, but normally that wouldn’t affect my viewership. Long story short, for the first time ever, I deliberately avoided watching. 

My hopes of the Spartans finally “getting their act together” were deflated in the form of missed box-outs and front ends in Columbus and crushed again with more of the same after a perfect start in Iowa City. 

Adjustments that proposed progress were quickly discarded after sophomore forward Julius Marble II picked up a quick foul or freshman guard A.J. Hoggard committed a turnover.

I’d given up, and my friends could attest that I’d never considered that thought in my fanatic lifetime. 

So, great, they eeked a win against a fringe tournament team. Now they face their toughest stretch, one that features rival and No. 3 ranked Michigan twice, No. 5 Illinois once and a hot Maryland once too. The only avenue MSU has to avoid their only losing Big Ten season under head coach Tom Izzo is winning out.

Those are the frustrations. 

There are a few consolations. Izzo finally seems to be riding his horses. And by that I mean junior forward Aaron Henry is playing 40 minutes. Cassius Winston rarely ever boasted that feat. After two-plus years of Izzo harping on Henry to “be mean,” and step into the role many expected him to fill, he has indeed answered the bell.

 

He was seen screaming at teammates in a home blowout at the hands of Iowa.

“We just want to win.”

Henry's become a “player-coach” on a team that sorely needs it.

Izzo is starting Marble after taking him out after quite possibly the best minutes of his career late in the game in West Lafayette.

Prior to Sunday, I would have said these changes are coming too little too late. Maybe they still are, but the Spartans finally didn’t just show life but closed out a game. It’s encouraging to see sophomore guard Rocket Watts stepping into and draining pull-up threes with his swagger of last year and hear his backcourt mate fifth-year senior guard Joshua Langford express his refusal to quit.

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I believe the players on the team. 

Maybe Henry's "French" is this team's equivalent to Kenny Goins' "nut up or shut up" that prompted their 2019 Final Four run.

I lost belief in the coach I entrusted my most passionate fandom with, but I’m starting to get just a little bit back. 

Michigan State, No. 11 in the Big Ten, returns to East Lansing to face second place and No. 5 overall Illinois (16-5, 12-3) Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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