East Lansing, MI
With his Spartans looking like an M*A*S*H* unit Tom Izzo saw a silver lining in the dismantling of now 5-7 North Florida. His Spartans had their best half of the year in the first and to their credit North Florida fought, scratched and played tough throughout the game. The Spartans won 78-48. The #5 team in the nation improved their record to 9-1.
Travis Trice (blisters) and Gary Harris (ankle) both gave indications early that they wanted to play. With Matt Costello still out indefinitely with mononucleosis and Kenny Kaminski suspended indefinitely the Spartans still the superior team, where down a lot of minutes and depth.
A frustrated Izzo said, “I was pleased by the way we started out. We’ve had so much adversity here. To be honest with you, it was not a very good night for me because we thought we’d have those other two guys (Travis Trice and Gary Harris) playing. I found out late last night that they just didn’t think they could go and they tried today. It is what it is. It’s really hard on our team because who’s starting, who’s not starting, who’s this, who’s that. I just came in today and decided that those guys wouldn’t be starting even if they could play and we’ve just got to get a team together and go from there. It’s been hard.”
Izzo continued to place his team’s struggles into context. “Right now we’re scrambling. I feel like the NFL, if you ask me who’s going to play Saturday I’d say game-time decision, I have no clue. So that part is a little discouraging but for the most part the way we executed offensively, the things we did defensively, didn’t turn the ball over, if (Keith) Appling – felt bad for him – kept short arming those layups, he would have had a 15, 16 point night.”
North Florida head coach Matt Driscoll certainly won the MSU press corps appreciation. His candor was forthright and refreshing. That is something we normally only get from Izzo. He said of the contest that, “First of all, this is our 28th-game, in my five-year career, against these kinds of opponents. Beyond the financial part, it does create some scenarios you can ever put into practice. For example, Alabama pressed us the whole time. Indiana’s pace of play, Michigan State’s girth and strength – we’ll never see that kind of situation. Ohio State’s ability to stretch you and guard you at all positions, and Florida being a pressing team. From a basketball standpoint, I can’t simulate that stuff in practice. They do get a chance to play in a place they see on T.V. all the time, so that’s what I’d say we get out of it the most. And then a check.”
Alex Gauna picked up 21 important minutes where he had six points and six rebounds. Freshman Gavin Schilling contributed with five rebounds and seven points. The two also saw significant minutes and played well and Izzo liked that. “I thought there were some positives. Gauna gets six rebounds, that’s almost a career. He did some better things and when he didn’t I let him know. He’s got to stay focused I thought Schilling really set some great screens and rolled, he’s just got to finish a little better. He’s running better, he’s getting more active. Alvin Ellis has done some nice things. It’s nice to see Alvin, he runs well, he defends well. He’s got to shoot a little better from the line.”
The Spartans will play Saturday in Austin, Texas against the Longhorns. If you want an early look at the Horns who are 9-1, they play North Carolina in Carolina tonight on ESPN2 at 7pm. In a fluke set of circumstances the Spartans will head to Austin on Thursday, two days before the game, and not the usual one day. Izzo looked for the bright side stating that he may take his team to the mall where they can do some Christmas shopping in warm weather.
For now, his thoughts rest on a Texas team that hasn’t added a significant amount of firepower, but they have gotten better by doing some housecleaning. Izzo said, “It’s funny, there’s always teams that there’s addition by subtraction. They had a couple guys that they got rid of, pretty talented guys too, by the way. This is a much better team than the one they had last year. Much better. You watch them, Felix, their point guard that played pretty well against us, he’s now coming off the bench. Those inside guys are playing well. It looks like a team that really gets along. They’ve got five guys in double figures. A lot of positive things for Rick (Barnes). I can sympathize with him and understand what he’s gone through. This is a much, much different team, but a better team. It’s a big game and yet it’s still a little difficult wondering who we’re going to have and who’s going to play. I guess the good news is after that game we have a little break.”
The highlight of the night from the Spartan Nation perspective may have been the appearance by the seniors on the football team during a first half break. With rounds of cheers and applause they stood at center court with their collection of trophies as the announcer reminded the crowd of their gladiator’s athletic conquests.
The Spartans and the Longhorns tip it off at 4PM EST on Saturday and you can see that game on CBS. Of course Spartan Nation will be there.