Memo to student sections: If you taunt a visiting player, you’re probably accidently hurting your own team

Michigan State freshman Gary Harris was a popular vocal target of Indiana fans, mostly students, during the Spartans’ 75-70 loss Sunday in Bloomington, Ind.

And it very nearly cost Indiana the game.

Just as similar taunts toward Branden Dawson last year at Purdue only aided the Spartans.

Harris is an Indianapolis-area kid who chose MSU over the Hoosiers. Dawson, also a heralded recruit, from Gary, Ind., picked the Spartans over the Boilermakers.

So, naturally, their fan bases booed and mocked Harris and Dawson on their first visits.

Dawson, last February, put together a 15-point, 11-rebound, two-block, one-windmill-throw-down-dunk performance in a 76-62 win at Purdue, as the crowd stayed on him. He was essentially the difference in the game.

Harris scored 21 points and hit five 3-pointers against the Hoosiers and several unfriendly chants. Harris, who’d been mired in a mid-season freshman slump, broke out of it and several times stared down the crowd.

These aren’t the only two examples. It happens frequently, a famous example being when former Michigan star Jalen Rose lit up Illinois, as the Orange Crush student section went at him. And Rose later said, as the taunts continued, he was more motivated to shut the crowd up with his play.

It’s something to think about as a student or fan: Are you really helping by poking the bear?

MSU coach Tom Izzo told the story Monday about former Iowa coach George Raveling, on Valentines Day, having a player present MSU star Scott Skiles with a big Valentines Day card when he was introduced, hoping being nice to Skiles would produce a better result for the Hawkeyes.

“His theory was everywhere (Skiles) goes, they’d boo him and yell at him,” Izzo said. “On that given night, we’re going to treat him nice and see if it helps. It didn’t but I thought the logic was pretty good. So when he came up to shake hands, he gave him a Valentine’s Day card. I thought that was a pretty good idea so I might try something like that.”


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14 Responses to Memo to student sections: If you taunt a visiting player, you’re probably accidently hurting your own team

  1. avatar dmbtierney says:

    Dear Mr. Couch, having seen more college games than you over the years (I actually saw Jim Boeheim play in college), I don’t really agree with your observation. By the time players reach college, they have pretty much experienced everything in basketball–games in stadiums, hostile enemy courts, jeers, chants about their mothers and girlfriends, etc. I really think once they focus on the game at hand they tend to block out the personal things. Of course, a vocal home crowd can help fire up the team, but there is nothing more satisfying than silencing a crowd on the road when you beat them on their home court. I feel personal attacks firing up players is greatly overated.

    • avatar LancelotSpartan says:

      Aren’t you contradicting yourself here? You say you disagree with Couch and then go on to say “there is nothing more satisfying than silencing a crowd on the road”, which is what Couch’s whole point is… That Harris and Dawson played well because they were being taunted and they wanted to shut the crowd up… Anways, have you seen Reggie Miller play in Madison Square Garden?

      • avatar dmbtierney says:

        Not at all. You focus on the game, don’t let the crowd bother you, then gloat or feel good when the game is over and a silent crowd walks out.

  2. avatar marcus c says:


    As a former high school/division 1 athlete, I assure you that the 18-22 year old brain never gets used to jeers or slander, and that they absolutely, 100% motivate a player to elevate their game to quiet the masses. It doesnt always work out, and can lead to “pressing” or uncharacteristic mistakes…but it certainly has an effect on a player.

  3. avatar Dr. J says:

    I am a psychology professor at a major institution (I can’t say which one, because they might fire me if they knew I was an MSU fan…that should narrow it down a bit).

    In terms of sports psychology, the biggest effect the crowd has is on people that need to make cognitive decisions in ambiguous circumstances…the referees. There was a great (and surprisingly accurate) article on the topic.

    The effect on individual players is less straightforward, most likely because of drastic individual differences….but a good rule of thumb is to get on someone who is missing shots (or field goals), and back off of people who are making them.

    So…go after the referees!

  4. avatar jerseyjohn says:

    all i know is there are lots of detroit kids on other teams..our crowd never taunts them..the rednecks in indiana, however, seem to think it’s mandatory for a native to go to I-U or purdue.

  5. avatar Nate says:

    “Rednecks in Indiana”

    LOL, you obviously have not spent much time in Bloomington.

    I have seen a lot of nastiness in Lansing.

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  7. avatar @davisrc says:

    Performing well and proving you made the right decision the first time back in front of the old home crowd is bigger motivation than fans in the stand. Given the Spartan’s success at home, I would think to long about the vocal target. Pick a couple and let them have it.

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