Michigan State men’s basketball senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. knows his performance has taken a dip over the last three weeks.
He can see the difference between his presence on the floor from his dominant start to the season to his sluggish, uninspired performances as of late.
What changed for Michigan State’s starting senior center? He was one of four MSU players to test positive for COVID-19 the week after Christmas and missed the game against High Point.
Bingham said he has not felt like himself and is dealing with fatigue since coming back from being sick.
“I went back with my coach DJ (Stephens), we watched some of the games early in the year and compared them to the one that was most recent,” Bingham said. “And I feel like COVID did mess me up a little bit, but as an upperclassman, I gotta overcome that and be better for this team.”
In Michigan State’s home games against Minnesota and Northwestern, Bingham played a season-low 17 and 12 minutes, respectively. In his first four games back, Bingham averaged 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and two blocks in 17.8 minutes per game, according to KenPom.
Conversely, in the 11 games before testing positive, Bingham averaged 11.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 23.7 minutes per game, according to KenPom.
Bingham said when going back and looking at game film, he can see the stark difference between his energy level and performance from earlier in the season to now.
“It looks way different on tape,” Bingham said. “As always, when you're out there playing, you don't really think of some of the stuff that you're doing wrong that the coaches see, and then when you see it on film, it just gives you a better thought about it. So, watching film after the game was good for me.”
Bingham’s absence as being the dominant interior force over the last three weeks has coincided with the dip in performance for MSU as a whole. MSU squeaked out four victories in that stretch before finally falling to Northwestern in a painful two-point loss that Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo said was bound to happen sooner rather than later.
Izzo knows the effort that Bingham has brought since returning from COVID-19 is not good enough and is actively challenging Bingham during practices and games to return to his once-unstoppable level.
Izzo conceded that Bingham might have been more negatively affected by the virus than his teammates that tested positive, but added he must get back to the level he was playing at earlier in the season for this Michigan State team to realize its full potential in Big Ten play.
“We did talk about the difference since he's had COVID and when he wasn't, and he just doesn't seem to have his energy back,” Izzo said. “So, that was one thing that we all agreed on, including him, and give him the benefit of the doubt on that to a certain extent.”
However, Izzo added that the benefit of the doubt only extends so far and Bingham must get back to being the player he was in November and December if he wants to continue to play extensive minutes come March.
“He's gotta play like he was playing early in the year — blocking every shot, getting rebounds — doing the things he was doing,” Izzo said. “So, we gotta coach better, a couple guys gotta play better.”
Bingham’s performance at home against Northwestern was his worst to date, where he put up two points, two rebounds, two blocks and three turnovers in just 12 minutes. It was the second consecutive game that Izzo chose to bench Bingham for large stretches in each half because he was not happy with the effort Bingham was exhibiting on the court.
The benching in the first half happened almost immediately after the tip because Bingham was walking up and down the court in the opening minutes. He was replaced by junior center Julius Marble II as the starter for the second half and only played for four minutes before being benched again.
Bingham returned to the court with 0.7 seconds remaining. Michigan State trailed by two and was set to inbound the ball beneath Northwestern’s basket. Junior forward Malik Hall threw a lob to Bingham on the inbounds and he was fouled in the air, sending him to the line for a one-and-one with a chance to send the game to overtime.
Bingham’s first free throw clanged loudly off the back iron and fell into Northwestern’s hands, signaling the end to a disaster for MSU that resulted in its first loss in the Big Ten this season. Bingham stood at the line with his head hung as the final buzzer rang throughout Breslin Center, knowing he could not overcome his performance and help the team when they needed him most.
The bad performance, capped off by the missed free throw, prompted Bingham to tweet an apology to MSU fans after the game with a promise to improve moving forward.
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“I wanted to make it so bad,” Bingham said. “And when you miss, it kind of deflates you a little bit. But I wanted to show love to the fans and tell them I'm going to be better and I'll see 'em in April.”
Bingham said the bad performance lit a fire under him to come out and make a statement for the rest of the season going forward. That fire found a subtle spark as Bingham looked like he was more of himself against Wisconsin on Jan. 21. He scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds, but only played 13 minutes and did not see the court for the final 10 minutes of action in his teams’ stunning upset victory.
"I think, as a person, it fires me up a lot to go out there and play hard for my team," Bingham said.
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