East Lansing, MI
The Breslin was rocking to start tonight’s tilt with Northwestern, but as soon as Indiana finished with a win in Ann Arbor you could feel the change. They didn’t announce the score, but the Spartans second half lull told the story. Head coach Tom Izzo admitted that he talked to his team about it.
Still in workmanlike fashion the Spartans dusted off the lunchbox and won over the Northwestern Wildcats 71-61.
It was a teary Tom Izzo who declared on the court before senior Derrick Nix made his speech after the game that, “What’s most important to his mother and me, he’s walking out of here with a degree from Michigan State.” The crowd roared while Nix’s mother sobbed.
Perhaps Tom Izzo’s best coaching job, of a person and not just a basketball player has been Nix. I have been around a long time and think off the court, no single player has been handled and developed as a young man better than Nix.”
Izzo said of the maturation of Nix as a man, “Off the court, I’ve learned a lot. You better give a kid a chance to fail and succeed. A lot of us needed that. Some is public and some is private. He’s a better man leaving than he was coming. That wasn’t just Tom Izzo that was my staff, his mom, his high school coach. If there was ever an issue academically, he didn’t call, he was right here. He’s was crying about me going to Cleveland. He was loyal to me. I’ll be loyal to him. Tough love was hard. But in general, give people a chance.”
Nix told an adoring crowd that Izzo is, “The closest thing I have to a father.” Words that brought an already emotional Izzo to tears of humility. “This program have given me more than I have given it.”
The Spartans edged out the Wildcats in rebounding margin 22-21 and that tells you what you need to know. The Spartans shot a lights out 66% from the field while Northwestern hit 43%. Izzo said, “To shoot 66% … and struggle to win is a little concerning.”
Northwestern Coach Bill Carmody said of the last five minutes when his Wildcats really lost this game that, “A couple of turnovers late or run outs hurt us. That is a pretty good transition team. We tried to pick and choose when to double team Derrick Nix. He hurt us a few times finding another guy under the basket in the first half and he threw it out to (Travis) Trice a couple of times. He is a big kid who sees the floor, so we tied to change up the double teams.”
Nix’s senior day stats were 11 points, four rebounds and six assists. Keith Appling dropped in 16 Adreian Payne added 11 and Gary Harris had 12.
This Spartan team is very interesting. We have said since last year ended that this team needed a leader. They still do. They are capable of making it to Atlanta for a Final Four and losing in their first game. They are interesting to say the least.
Izzo agreed saying, “This team went through the most brutal schedule in the whole country… I’m so proud of that. We’ve got a lot of things to feel good about. But it’s this time of year that you get measured moving forward.”
Izzo’s attention before his post-game press conference was over was already on the Big Ten tournament. He said, “We’ve got something to look forward to. This tournament will be like a Final Four.”
He likes where his team is now. He said, “I think this is as healthy as we’ve been. Harris tweaked that thing but it was minor. Nix’s knees. Trice, Valentine are healthy. No issues health wise. No we have to refocus on a bigger goal.” In Izzo’s talk that would be a Final Four.
Izzo had to take a second and praise the Hoosiers. With gritted teeth he gave praise where praise was due. He added, “Indiana has been the best team all year. They probably deserve to win the Big Ten championship. And yet we’ve been with them.”
Even with the loss of a Big Ten title, Izzo played cheerleader by simply saying I “think it’s going to fun in Chicago. Nerve-wracking, but fun for the fans.”
I agree. Before the year I predicted the Spartans record for the entire regular season. I said I thought this team would go 24-7. I don’t say that to brag, I say that to make this amazing statement of fact. I have no clue what happens this post season.
They could lose game one in Chicago and make a Final Four. They could win the BTT and lose in round one of the tournament and vice versa. What I do know is that you never vote against MSU basketball this time of year. NEVER. I have no idea what will happen, but it will be interesting.
The Spartans will tip off after 9 PM EST on Friday against the Iowa vs. Northwestern winner.