Tom Izzo said his “heart got where his head is.” The MSU coach then bemoaned using too many players regularly in his rotation during a 76-44 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and promised that the number of minutes would shrink for some.
All of this came after MSU scored the game’s first 14 points, holding Arkansas-Pine Bluff scoreless until the 10:12 mark of the opening period – more than 9 1/2 minutes without a point – and building a 30-4 with three minutes left in the half.
“I wasn’t pleased with the game at all,” Izzo said. “There were moments we moved the ball well, moments we got the ball inside and out well, moments we checked very well, moments we went to the offensive glass really well. But a lot of moments when what we did was not acceptable at all. …
“In a way, that was one of our worst performances of the year as far as just playing with some passion and some persistence. I don’t know who I’m more disappointed with – a few players or myself. I’m gonna take 99 percent of the blame.”
Junior point guard Keith Appling spent long spells on the bench alongside Izzo, talking about his own issues and those of the team. Izzo even said their time together “felt like Keith was Mateen Cleaves” with their discussions.
“I feel like coach is just looking ahead a little bit because the Big Ten is going to be so deep and so talent-heavy that we’re not going to be able to make the mistakes we’re making in these games,” Appling said. “I think that’s why he’s so on edge.”
Much of Izzo’s internal animosity comes from playing nine players 12-or-more minutes. He likes what he’s seen lately from Brandan Kearney (20 minutes) in filling his role. He thinks both Adreian Payne (18 minutes) and Travis Trice (21 minutes) are performing well off the bench. That trio – along with starters Appling (25 minutes), Gary Harris (22 minutes), Denzel Valentine (20 minutes), Branden Dawson (25 minutes) and Derrick Nix (20 minutes) – would make a rotation of eight.
Alex Gauna (8 minutes) and Matt Costello (6 minutes) will continue to battle for backup time in the post.
“I’m looking for guys like me. I need somebody to show some emotion. If that’s what they don’t want to do, then this is a bad place for them,” Izzo said, about no one in particular. “I need some people that have some passion in what they do. If it’s not their personality, I don’t really care.”
That leaves redshirt sophomore captain Russell Byrd, without Izzo mentioning his name, as the odd man out. Byrd played 12 minutes, finishing with six late points, three rebounds – but also committing two foolish fouls and an ugly turnover. The guard went 2 for 7 and is shooting 9 of 32 for the season, including just 5 of 25 from 3-point range.
There also were a number of other areas Izzo cited his frustration with – 19 more turnovers against a supremely overmatched opponent being chief among them. The Spartans are averaging 15.3 turnovers a game this season.
“The difference between this game and Nicholls State is our turnovers. We had a lot more turnovers in this game, and that’s something we gotta change,” Harris said. “It’s just making smart decisions, not going for the home run every time. Coach is always talking about going for singles.”
MSU returns to action at 2 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Loyola (Chicago) at Breslin (Big Ten Network). The Ramblers are 6-2 on the season so far and winners of their last four games. The Jenison Jubilee game with Tuskegee comes next, followed by a road game at Bowling Green and a visit by Texas before MSU opens the Big Ten season on Dec. 31 at Minnesota.
“Now, we should be ready for what we’re gonna get. If we play as sloppy as we did, we’re gonna get punched right in the mouth,” Izzo said. “If we don’t, we’re gonna grow as a team.”