“That was a war,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said as he stepped into the Breslin Center media room for his postgame news conference Friday.
His Spartans held off a tough Northwestern team, 61-52, to move to 10-5 and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Izzo acknowledged lingering frustrations, but he also shared satisfaction with his team’s defense and toughness while appreciating the caliber of opponent the Spartans beat.
On freshman big man Nick Ward, who played just 18 minutes: “He got frustrated, you know? And we got frustrated with him. That’s gonna happen with freshmen. But like I said, I like more when guys respond. D.J. (assistant coach Dwayne Stephens) let him know what he thought of what he was doing, and he responded. That’s a big positive. Cassius (Winston), (ignoring) time (left one the clock while holding) possession (with) under 4 minutes, taking a chance. We put him right back in (after sitting a possession following his turnover). We’re trying to get to know them. They’ve got to continue to trust us. Alvin (Ellis) is still playing good. We’ve still got to get more out of (Matt) McQuaid. We’ve still got to get more out of (Eron) Harris. Maybe we’ll start working in our other guy (the injured Miles Bridges) in practice and see if we can get him going a little bit, which would help, too.”
On toughness and wonky lineups: “We are getting a little tougher. We were battling in there. We out-rebounded them bad (43-27). That’s mostly because our defense was so good. We didn’t give up a lot of penetration until late, but we’re trying to figure out when to switch and when not to switch and certain lineups in there. I told my staff with about 3 minutes left, I said, ‘God, it’s hard to ever feel comfortable with this group right now.’ But it’s not all their fault. There’s times we have lineups in there that probably shouldn’t be in there.”
On holding Northwestern without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes in the second half: “Yeah, I think it was (the best stretch of defense we’ve played this season). I think it was interesting to hear my players when I got into the locker room. That’s what they were talking about. For players, when the coaches aren’t around, to talk about defense is un-American. That’s what they were doing. That’s when they said something about McQuaid, and it made me feel good. We still make some boneheaded plays now. There’s some head-scratchers once in a while, but for the most part, we’re playing over it. We’re getting through it. We’re growing up a little bit. I’m not trying to make this like we beat the Celtics, but that’s a good team we beat that’s been playing good and came in very confident.”
On the prospect of easing Bridges back in more slowly because of a 2-0 Big Ten start: “Are you crazy? I’m going to bring Miles along as slow as he medically can be and as fast as he medically can be. We need Miles. We really do. He is working out. We did let him go through warmups. I don’t know what that means. Workouts will intensify the next couple days, but everything has looked great so far. Now, the problem will be when he comes back, he ain’t gonna be the same Miles Bridges. Even (he) is gonna go through a growing period again, a learning period. That’s gonna take weeks. But I am never gonna put him in any position of taking a chance, but we do have to get him back, or the longer he’s out, the longer it takes to get back.”