After being a presence in MSU's first-half rally, junior forward Thomas Kithier warmed up at the sideline to start the second half in the Spartans 78-71 win at Indiana Saturday.
With the Spartan strength coaches standing beside him, Kithier shuffled in and out of the locker room hallway, he jumped on and off Indiana’s crimson carpet. Then he prepared to enter the game as MSU was knocking on the door of Indiana’s game-long lead.
And then Kithier opened it.
In the four minutes that followed his entry from the scorer’s table, MSU took its first lead of the game at 75-72.
While MSU accelerated on that scoring run, Kithier brought interior defense that held Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis to just one field goal. Even if Jackson-Davis didn't slow down on Saturday afternoon, ending with 34 points on 11-for-18 shooting, Kithier did a nice job for much of the game.
“He (Kithier) did a decent job on Trayce and Trayce is a load, he’s a good player,” head coach Tom Izzo said post-game. “I didn’t think we did a great job on him, I thought he was hard to cover, but I thought Thomas did the best job. Mady did a pretty good job on him too.”
It’s the reason Izzo has stuck with Kithier despite backlash throughout the season. Spartan fans haven’t been shy to voice frustration with Kithier’s abilities, and while Izzo has juggled the 6-foot-8 Spartan big in and out of his starting lineup and rotation, he’s been adamant on keeping him as a force.
“Thomas is our best guy at forcing guys out,” Izzo said. “Marky’s (Marcus Bingham Jr.) lack of strength hurt and Julius has got the strength but maybe not the experience, I think he found out that starting he got tired quickly.”
MSU was 10 points better than Indiana when Kithier was on the court. He put up just two points and grabbed just two rebounds, but his presence allowed opportunities for teammates like Aaron Henry, Josh Langford and Gabe Brown to put up career nights.
“We all played for each other,” Henry said, following his 27 point performance to mark his first collegiate win in his home state of Indiana.
Henry echoed what MSU showed on the court, a full-team force backed by contributions ranging from Kithier to sophomore guard Rocket Watts, to Langford, to Brown.
“It would have been easy for us to just throw in the towel when they (Indiana) made that run early in the first half but to everybody’s credit, we stayed solid and we kept the right attitude," Langford said.
MSU will look to work off this win in a busy upcoming two weeks. The Spartans will host Illinois on Feb. 23.
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