There was probably only one predictable outcome surrounding Michigan State’s 85-57 exhibition victory over Northwood (Fla.) on Tuesday night – head coach Tom Izzo wasn’t exactly happy with how his team played.
Coming into the game, Izzo talked about how his team had practiced so well for three weeks and how he was anxious to see how they played. Now he’s anxious to get back to work.
Was it as bad as Izzo made it out to be? No. It was, after all, the first game with several new pieces. And Northwood is no slouch. The Seahawks were one win away from the NAIA Division II national title game a year ago.
So yes, the Spartans started slow, settled down and pulled away in the second half. It was far from perfect and as Izzo said after the game, it will be a good teaching tape.
But what even he couldn’t deny is the fact the Spartans have talent – tons of it. “I like the pieces we have,” he said.
It will no doubt get better, and Izzo will likely have far more nights when he feels a whole lot better about his team than he did Tuesday.
Some other quick impressions from the opener:
- Knee injury? What knee injury? Sophomore Branden Dawson hardly looked like a guy who tore the ACL in his left knee just more than seven months ago. He was jumping out of the gym, but what I liked about him was he seemed much more under control than a season ago. He can still overpower people physically, but he also understands he doesn’t always have to all the time. His knowledge of the game has taken huge leaps, and some of that can be attributed to his time rehabbing the injury. Expect big things from Dawson this season.
- Derrick Nix admitted that being the only senior on the team will be tough when it comes to leadership, but he said, “That’s what I signed up for.” Nix, too, was sloppy at times and was just 1-for-5 from the free-throw line. However, he’s in great shape and considering he scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds while not playing especially well, it’s a good sign for the Spartans.
- Freshman Gary Harris looked like a natural on the court. He wasn’t overwhelming in any aspect, he just looked like he’d been playing at this level his entire career, scoring 14 points and committing just one turnover. Travis Trice called him Michigan State’s most versatile player, and he proved it, defending well, scoring while attacking the rim and hitting two 3-pointers. He’ll have growing pains this season, but he’s as polished as a freshman can get.
- Trice played well and showed few ill affects of missing most of the summer with a virus that caused him to lose 20 pounds. Izzo called him a “bright spot” and he thrived playing with Keith Appling in a smaller lineup. He also showed the same shooting touch that he flashed as a freshman, going 5-for-6 from the field, including 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.
- There were certainly issues for the Spartans and one that could linger all season is the play of sophomore captain Russell Byrd. He had trouble guarding Northwood’s talented forward, Masse Doumbe, and misfired on all three of his shots. The Spartans are counting on Byrd to make shots, but if he can’t defend, they won’t have the luxury of allowing him enough playing time to get his shot into a decent rhythm.
- Keith Appling had a solid start at point guard, dishing out seven assists, grabbing six rebounds and scoring seven points. He was only 3-for-10 shooting, but some came on running drives to the basket. From the perimeter – which he worked on extensively in the off-season – he was OK, hitting just one of four from 3-point range.