The Michigan State Spartans (2-2) opened up their college basketball season with arguably the toughest start for any team in the NCAA. After putting up a great performance against a top-ranked North Carolina team, the Spartans nearly battled their way to victory when they took on another top-ten team in Duke for their second match up of the year.
Though both games resulted in heartbreaking losses, head coach Tom Izzo told his team and reporters that he definitely saw a lot of the positives from his players, such as the excellent rebounding skills of starter Draymond Green and the overall offensive surge of his forwards.
So you would think that when Michigan State finally faced a lesser opponent in Arkansas-Little Rock Sunday night and handed them a 69-47 loss as part of this year’s Spartan Invitational that coach Izzo would be happy to shower his players with praise; including senior captain Austin Thornton, who had a career-high 13 points in the win.
Eh, sorry guys. Not so much…
“Stats sometimes are misleading. I need Austin to be our leader, I need him to be a captain, I need him to be a communicator,” Izzo said. “They got some 3s on him. But stat-wise, he played good. That would be my comment.”
Thornton, who has never made too much of a splash in the Spartans’ pool over the years, did lack some defensive effort but overall didn’t seem surprised by Izzo’s comments after the game.
“That’s the way coach is,” Thornton said. “Rebounding, I’ve got to get more rebounds. I’ve got to make more open shots. One thing he talked about was our demeanor before the game. We’ve got to get ourselves ready, make sure we get ready, and can’t take these teams lightly.”
The team’s other senior captain, the highly-talented Draymond Green, shared in the same sentiments set forth by coach Izzo concerning Thornton’s play in the Invitational. While nobody is looking to dog their teammates or players, it’s becoming very apparent that this team isn’t going to be taking any performance, good or bad, lightly.
“I think Austin could’ve played better, plain and simple,” Green said. “Coach told him that and I told him that. His stats were good, and you have to give him kudos for that, but I know he can get more and he knows he can get more.”
While this team may be headed in the right direction after a rough start, Izzo knows things could all go south just as quickly if the Spartans don’t continue to analyze and break down their plays.
“We have a lot of areas for improvement,” Izzo told reporters. “We need to understand that every night, we’re being evaluated. Effort is one thing we control.”
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