Michigan State basketball came into this game with less confidence than it had in years. What changes allowed the Spartans to bounce back?
Despite being the only Spartan Avenue contributor to pick Indiana to lose to Michigan State, I wasn’t extremely confident about my game prediction. In fact, in a few ways, I was way off.
For one, the score was much higher than I had predicted and the gap between the two teams was wider, but I was right about one important factor. Tom Izzo was ready to make some big changes coming into this matchup. He made some surprising comments regarding certain players after a brutal loss at Purdue a few days ago, so you could tell he was ready to turn things around.
And for the most part, this team did just that. It didn’t start pretty, with the Michigan State basketball team allowing Indiana to stomp all over them to kick off the game. It looked like what we had seen all year. A team playing an unmotivated game, unable to tap into their full potential.
But in the second half, something changed. For the first time in a while, Thomas Kithier actually stepped up and played a great all-around game. He displayed such a strong performance that most of us were able to look past a wide open bricked layup during a crucial stretch of the second half.
But Kithier wasn’t the guy who made the biggest difference on Saturday. Rather, that honor can be split between Aaron Henry and Josh Langford. After a very quiet first half, Langford took over the game in the second half. He went on a personal scoring stretch that completely shifted the momentum of the game in the Spartans’ favor.
Henry would finish things off for MSU, matching his career-high with 27 points in this game. He’s been a strong leader all year and he proved that he wanted it more than Trayce Jackson-Davis.
To me, the most important factor in getting this win was Izzo sticking with the guys who were working. So many times this year, we’ve seen Izzo pull a guy after a great first half performance. We thought we might see this with Kithier on Saturday, who was having a season-best performance, but we would see him march back onto the court late.
The lineup of Rocket Watts, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, Thomas Kithier and Marcus Bingham was working. Being scarred from past games, most fans were expecting these guys to be pulled for under-performers down the stretch. But that didn’t happen. Izzo stuck to the guys who were working and it paid off.
Hopefully, this game is a sign of things to come for Izzo’s squad. A team that is looking to claw their way back into the tournament is starting to trend in the right direction, so we can only hope for the best moving forward.