Friday, December 3, 2021

Preview: Michigan State men's basketball to host Western Michigan in home opener

November 12, 2021
<p>Junior forward Gabe Brown (44) jumps to block a shot from Western Michigan&#x27;s B. Artis White (3) in the first half of the game. The Spartans came back in the second half to end the game against the Broncos, 79-61, on Dec. 6, 2020.</p>

Junior forward Gabe Brown (44) jumps to block a shot from Western Michigan's B. Artis White (3) in the first half of the game. The Spartans came back in the second half to end the game against the Broncos, 79-61, on Dec. 6, 2020.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Following falling to Kansas on Tuesday night, Michigan State men’s basketball (0-1) will host Western Michigan (1-0) for their home opener on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

The Spartans lead the all-time series 21-4 with their most recent matchup on Dec. 6, 2020, resulting in a 79-61 MSU victory. 

On Wednesday, Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo discussed Michigan State’s loss to Kansas and said he was “very disappointed (with the team) in a positive way,” while lauding his team’s competitiveness in the face of a top-five opponent. 

“We got some work to do, a lot of work to do,” Izzo said. “But there is an upside to what I saw (Tuesday) night-I’m not being optimistic, I’m being realistic.” 

After hanging tight in the first half against the Jayhawks, turnovers, poor free-throw shooting and a career night from senior guard Ochai Agbaji ultimately stunted any of the Spartan’s momentum in an 87-74 loss but there were some bright spots. Sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard led Michigan State with a career-high 17 points and 4 assists and junior forward Julius Marble II put up 13 points in some pleasantly surprising and productive performances. 

Marble said on Wednesday that “self-inflicted” errors led to the loss against the Jayhawks but added that there was plenty of easily fixable mistakes. 

“Everything seemed really correctable,” Marble said. “Especially defensively, with just guys getting the wrong spots, taking plays off, not (being) totally focused.”

Freshman guard Max Christie said his first game for Michigan State was a great experience even though it didn’t turn out the way he imagined. He echoed Marble’s sentiment, noting that no issues were too glaring to not be resolved quickly. 

“You have to just sort of watch a lot of film and just see what you did wrong and what you did right and build on it,” Christie said of Tuesday’s lapses. “Just making sure that you’re taking it with a grain of salt, making sure that you’re looking at things you need to look at and not being too hard on yourself because it’s your first game.” 

Scouting Western 

In Western Michigan men's basketball Head Coach Clayton Bates' first season, Western Michigan was second-to-last in the MAC in points per game (63.1) on their way to a 4-12 conference record, good for a ninth overall finish. Several players graduated or opted to leave the program but Bates successfully reloaded with fresh talent from the transfer portal for his second campaign in Kalamazoo. 

It’s a move that’s paid off through one game. The Broncos downed Division III Hope College 76-58 on Wednesday as Duquesne transfer and junior guard Lamar Norman Jr. led all scorers with 23 points in his debut. Eastern Illinois transfer and senior guard Mack Smith also chipped in seven points and will provide Western Michigan with the steady three-point shooting presence it desperately needs. 

Butler transfer and redshirt sophomore forward Markeese Hastings added seven points and 10 rebounds in the winning effort while Valparaiso transfer and senior forward Mileek McMillan scored nine points in 16 minutes off the bench. Bates didn’t completely overhaul his roster but the new transfers make this team a touch more competitive than last season. 

Junior guard B. Artis White and junior center Titus Wright are the key returners for the Broncos, combining for 23 points per game in their 2020-21 season. While there are still some lingering issues in the frontcourt, Western Michigan’s backcourt is much improved and could provide opponents with some considerable problems this year. 

Izzo admitted on Wednesday that he hadn’t watched much of Western Michigan due to his schedule and while he stressed he wasn’t looking past the Broncos, he said he was more concerned with shoring up Michigan State’s current issues.

“I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about us,” Izzo said. "If we get better in these areas, we'll be fine."

For his part, Christie said the Spartans are locked in on Western Michigan despite Tuesday’s high-profile loss.

“It doesn’t matter, win or loss, we’re all looking to the next game regardless of the outcome,” Christie said. “We’re not looking ahead of any games, we’re not looking past anybody else. We’re just focused on Western Michigan right now.” 

Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be aired on Big Ten Network.

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