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Freshmen flash talent, potential in MSU men’s basketball’s opening exhibition victory

October 26, 2023
<p>Hillsdale’s sophomore guard Cole McWhinnie (11) dribbles the ball as Michigan State’s freshman guard Jeremy Fears Jr. (1) guards him during a game between them at the Breslin Center on Oct. 25, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Chargers 85-43.</p>

Hillsdale’s sophomore guard Cole McWhinnie (11) dribbles the ball as Michigan State’s freshman guard Jeremy Fears Jr. (1) guards him during a game between them at the Breslin Center on Oct. 25, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Chargers 85-43.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

The Michigan State’s men’s basketball freshmen were as advertised in the team’s 85-43 exhibition win over Hillsdale College Wednesday night, giving Spartan fans a glimpse of what’s in store for the future.

Head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and his staff welcomed a freshmen class regarded as one of the best in the nation, adding two five-stars and two four-stars to a roster that returned four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 squad. 

In their first collegiate action, the four freshmen combined for over a quarter of MSU’s points, each playing a role in the win and showing flashes of talent and potential.

MSU freshman forward Coen Carr may not have been Izzo’s highest-touted recruit, but he has drawn eyes with his remarkable athleticism. He was not shy to show it Wednesday, scoring 12 points and throwing down several dunks that brought the Breslin Center to an uproar.

“I just let it come to me,” Carr said postgame. “I don’t try to force anything, if you’re playing the right way and playing how you’re supposed to, it’s going to come to you.”

Forward Xavier Booker, Carr’s freshman partner in the frontcourt, showed his ability to stretch the floor at 6’11 by shooting 2-for-3 from behind the arc. 

Booker only played 15 minutes and put up four shots but proved he could be a floor-spacer for the Spartans when in the game. He finished with six points and three rebounds.

Izzo said he sat down with the freshmen Tuesday night to discuss their demeanors.

“I talked to the four freshmen about different things, and one was ‘you’re all cool and casual … but tomorrow you’ll be nervous as hell when you take the floor and your wind will probably go,” Izzo said. 

Freshman guard Jeremy Fears Jr. said it was an “adjustment” playing at the next level.

“The first (substitution) and first entries (were) pretty rough for me,” Fears said. “But I’ve definitely grown and learned from that.”

Fears was a bright spot for MSU, tallying eight assists, six in the first half, displaying his floor vision and willingness to find the open man. 

Nicknamed the “Floor General” coming out of high school, Fears said he was seeing the passing lanes the same as he always has.

“This is our first time playing against a real team other than each other in practice, but just still being able to make plays and put my teammates in the right position for them to score,” Fears said. “It’s just been overall great and, you know, nothing’s really changed.”

Freshman guard Gehrig Normand saw some action Wednesday, playing seven minutes, scoring on a reverse layup and recording a steal. Izzo said Normand sprained his ankle just a few days before the game and didn’t know if he would even be able to play. 

There’s still a ton of room for improvement in MSU’s four freshmen. But, if Wednesday night was any indication, it’s a group of youngsters that can make an impact at any given moment.

“It’s here, and it’s real,” Fears said. “So just enjoy it and keep getting better every day.”

MSU plays in its final exhibition Sunday against the preseason No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers in a Maui relief charity game. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center. 

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