EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had so much to say after the Spartans’ 84-74 Senior Day win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday that he had to interrupt himself to talk about players he felt hadn’t gotten enough praise.
He didn’t have many negative things to say after his team’s performance, which complemented the festivities honoring seniors Alvin Ellis III, Eron Harris and Matt Van Dyk. Izzo spoke at length about how individual players had made him proud and then lauded the team’s improvement as a whole.
Here are the most salient snippets of what Izzo had to say:
On putting an injured Harris into the game: “I feel like I’ve spent my whole career talking about memory-making moments, and Senior Day for me is the toughest day of the year. It always has been. It probably always will be till I’m done. Last night I lay there, and I called my equipment (manager), Dave Pruder. I said, ‘Don’t tell anybody, but if we get way ahead or way behind, I’m putting Eron in. It’s gonna be his one shining moment.’ I was able to do that. It just felt like all that’s good about my job. A lot of times, there’s a lot of things that aren’t as good.”
On dealing with adversity: “The greatest memory-making moment will be for the next 60 years, you’re going to understand when your back’s against the wall, your neck’s on the line, you can do one of two things: You can give up, or you can grind. And we grinded. Is that such a word? I’m very proud of them for that. There were a lot of things we did well. We made some mistakes. Wisconsin’s a veteran team. They’re a good team. They’re struggling a little bit, for whatever reasons. That is a very good basketball team.
“(Wisconsin guard Bronson) Koenig is an unbelievable player. It just seems when things are on the line, he makes shot after shot after shot. But I thought we did such a good job defensively, even though they shot 43 percent and (28 percent) from the three. We were worried about the rebounding. We outrebounded them. We were worried about the offensive rebounds. They did have 15 and scored some points. For us, 11 turnovers is awesome.”
On the NCAA Tournament: “Who knows what’ll happen? I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable on anything until things happen. But we put ourselves in a position that I can look in a mirror and say we deserved some things. The significance is what you just said. When you can be consistent year after year after year — because nobody’s kidding anybody, guys. I haven’t been able to say it, but we have a shell of our team. You know it. I know it.
“It’s been hell on those freshmen. It’s been hard on us. And we’ve handled it, we’ve survived it. That doesn’t mean we’re done yet. That doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish some things yet. It doesn’t mean that we’re over the hump. It just means that we learned how to deal with some pressure. And I’ve learned a lot from them. I told you this was a learning year for me, too. I admit it. I’d never gone through anything like this. I’m proud. That’s the best word I’d give. Proud of the consistency. What happens from here, who knows? We’ve still got some games to win.”
On freshman big man Nick Ward: “Nick is a load down there. Nick’s going to be such a good player. He’s got such a long way to go, and he’s going to be such a good player, if that makes any sense at all. He’s gotten better. He’s so much more coachable. He understands things. He can take it now. He understands that we all are in this together and that we’re trying to make him better. I just love the way he responded.
“That’s one thing I will say about this team. Hey, I’m not the easiest guy to play for. Everybody knows. Great. It’s not the easiest to play in a system where you’ve gone 19 straight times to the NCAA Tournament, it’s slipping away and there’s pressure on. Those things are harder than all you guys think or know. Nick Ward was one of the guys that after that Michigan game (an 86-57 loss on Feb. 7), we benched him, and he stepped up. He’s been consistently a much better play since.
“He still has some lags in his defense at times, stepping up on those ball screens, but at least I know that it matters to him now. I’m really proud of him and what he’s done, and hopefully the best for him is yet to come, too.”
On Kenny Goins’ performance defensively: “We were on Kenny, too, because it seemed like he was getting pushed around there. D.J. (assistant coach Dwayne Stephens) was on him, and I was on him, and everybody was on him. Another guy that withstood it. That’s what he should do. If you’re getting beat, you should get ticked off. Sometimes it takes me or D.J. to get ticked off to get him ticked off, and when he gets ticked off himself he’ll become a lot better player. So that’s all part of the growing process that we’re working on, but Kenny Goins did a good job.”
On Matt McQuaid’s 15-point performance: “I don’t think I’ve talked enough about McQuaid. He made some big, big, big, big, big plays and some pretty good defensive plays. He took a giant step tonight.”