The Breslin Center
East Lansing, MI
The Spartans were led by Cassius Winston who had 24 points on 8 of 10 shooting and added seven assists and no turnovers. Kenny Goins added 12 points, three assists, and three rebounds. Nick Ward was the only other Spartan in double digits as he had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Tom Izzo said, “It was kind of a strange game. First of all, it’s never any fun going against your former assistant and former player. I really like Mark Montgomery’s team and I am not saying that to make things better. Games against, Northern Kentucky and what we watched… I mean what he did to Oakland was amazing. I didn’t think they played as well early, they didn’t make any shots and we didn’t make any shots other than Cassius (Winston), he made a lot of shots. On a negative, I thought we looked slow, I thought we looked lethargic. On a positive, I thought they did a great job of taking our break away and sending five guys back. We didn’t punish them on the offensive glass as much as we should have because we just didn’t go as much. I thought even our wings, guys that never look slow like Kyle (Ahrens) and Matt (McQuaid), Josh (Langford). I just thought we looked slow, we just looked like we had too much time off and had too much turkey. Sometimes you blame the coach because you work too hard and that didn’t happen. We worked harder before Christmas. We have never taken five days off so I think I am just happy that we won the game. Hopefully, it will benefit us later on especially next week. The next two days are going to be very important. Other positives… Cassius has 24 points and shoots like he did and has seven assists with no turnovers. Believe it or not, give (Eugene) German credit, he is a hell of a player, but he worked for every point he got. Something happened that hasn’t happened here before. Cassius really took the challenge. I thought the second half when he made those two threes late…the maddest guy in the arena was Cassius and that is a big positive. I was really proud of what he did, how he played, how he made him work for his shots. I thought they did a great job on Nick Ward. Doubled him and tripled him sometimes. Nick had some great passes in the first half but nobody made any shots so he would have had more assists. It is a shame because he did turn it over too much although a couple of those were a three-second call and a charge so they were weird calls. We did a good job of getting it into Nick and they did a good job of doubling and tripling him. The second half it worked to our advantage because we made some shots. As far as Josh goes. I guess he tweaked his ankle just a little bit a day or two ago. He doesn’t even know when. It was a little sore before the game and he thought he was going to play and didn’t think anything of it. He didn’t want to push it so we got him out of there. I’m sure they will do an x-ray or something… they do an x-ray right now if you have got a toothache, but there is no worry about him from what I have been told. We decided not to push him… he made the decision, but that probably hurt us a little bit too. I thought our freshman when they came in moved the ball and did some decent things. Exciting part of the day was Cassius all around. His defense almost more than his offense and 25 assists on 29 baskets is what this team has stood for. It is part of our identity right now and it’s a good identity.”
Northern Illinois head coach and MSU ICON Mark Montgomery had one of the nation’s best shooting teams. The Spartans held his team to an abysmal 33% shooting.
I ask “Monty” if his team had an off night or are the Spartans and their defense really that good. He said, “Their defense is that good, the shots that we usually get we didn’t. We usually get a few more calls; the physical play is different. I always say that they’re battle-tested, you look at their schedule, you know they play UCLA, Florida, Texas, Louisville, you know Kansas and you look at our schedule you know the speed of the game, the prep, and different things. You can’t do it; we just don’t have the players to do it, but they are very good. Their defense is very solid, their post play, you know when you have to double when you have a player that you have to double on defense can make it awfully tough. They are sound, they get back in transition, they talk, they communicate, they do everything that his last 20 some years. I don’t know I think it’s 24 now years have done, and they’re going to be awfully good this year, tough to beat. ”
Tom Izzo added of the above Kampe quote, “It’s funny. I think he’s, I’m hoping he’s talking more what he saw in the film, but I thought we were good tonight. I thought Nick ran early, but our wings didn’t run as good tonight, but I do think we’re a good running team. I do think we can get up and down the court, if Cassius is pushing and we subbed a little better and then at the end it was crazy, but we got some guys some rest and I think that would help a little bit. Nick gets in foul trouble and he was having a hell of a game and yet he gets seven rebounds and scored near pretty good. I like the way he ran the court, so I’ll tell you more after I watch the film. I didn’t think we were as good as we were against Iowa or some of those teams, but I do think we can run and you run better when you rebound. What I was worried about tonight is that we thought our wings and even Nick were sneaking out of there and that’s why they got 11 offensive rebounds. They were sneaking out and worrying about running before they rebounded so we’ll have to sharpen that up a little bit.”
The Spartan Nation gave Montgomery a loud ovation when he was introduced. It moved him and I asked of that moment. The humble Spartan great said, “You know like you said I’m a Spartan no matter where I’m at. Sometimes it harder when you leave because of course I follow my team, but I follow Michigan State in every sport. So, if you guys lose in football on Saturday, it’s not a happy home for me in DeKalb and it felt great, I love the love. We’ve always taken care of ours, and you know I got my start because Izzo gave me the opportunity. He gave me two opportunities. I played for Jud (Heathcote), but everyone knew he was towards the end of his career, Izzo recruited me and he stuck behind me for a lot of years and it feels great.”
The Spartans shot 51% from the field including 48% from the three. The Spartans shot a decent 70% from the free throw line and had 25 assists on 29 baskets.
The Spartans led the battle of the boards 46-38. Unfortunately, the Spartans only had 14 turnovers.
Izzo played 16 players including all five freshmen. It was a dominating performance against an inferior team, but that is what a #8 ranked team should do.
I asked Izzo about the praise of Montgomery for his team’s defense. Does this team D have a shot to be as good as any he has had? “God I wouldn’t have guessed so, to be honest with you. If Cassius guards like he does and we can rotate guys in and Nick is pretty good in the post guarding. Kenny (Goins) who struggled today a lot with his conditioning is usually a lockdown guy. I think (Mark) Montgomery has given us some credit, but I also think they missed some shots. A combination of both. When you watch that team on film, I thought it was the best team. Remember, that team beat Oakland at Oakland by 20. I thought it was the best team of the non-BCS teams that we played. They didn’t play as well today and I hope we had something to do with it. There were times where we didn’t play as well today and they had something to do with it.”
The Spartans return to Big Ten action against Northwestern back here at the Breslin Center on Wednesday, the 2nd of January. The tilt tips off at 8:30 PM and that game can be seen on BTN.
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