Tom Izzo has been adamant: His Michigan State team is improving.
The Spartans’ performance Tuesday reflected that. A forgettable first-half performance gave way to a spirited effort after the break and an impressive 75-74 road win in overtime in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota.
Izzo spoke to the media afterward about what led to the change and the progress he has seen in his throughout the season so far.
On his halftime message: “I was very disappointed in my team at halftime. I did not think we competed. … We just didn’t compete. We were letting them drive us. We were letting them do things. So I said, ‘Hey, I don’t care if we win or lose it, but we’re going to compete in the second half.’ And compete we did.”
On gradual improvement: “Since maybe the tournament down in The Bahamas (Battle 4 Atlantis), we’ve kind of gotten better. We beat a good Oakland team. We’re not great yet, but you know our team. This is not the most talent-ridden team we’ve had, but now they’re starting to learn how to fight.”
On getting outplayed: “Kind of a tale of two halves. And I really like Minnesota’s team. I think (Minnesota coach Richard Pitino) has done an incredible job with them. I thought they outplayed us two thirds of that game.”
On improved defense: “To our credit, we scored more the second half, but we defended a lot better. It was a hard team to defend. They were driving around us. They were going around us. They were taking it to us, drawing fouls right and left and every way else. So I’m really proud of the freshmen because I told them they have no idea; they think Duke and Kentucky and those teams are tough.”
On Minnesota: “This is the best Minnesota team I’ve seen in a while. And I think, you know, it’s one thing that’s always left to do is learn how to close out games. And this team is going to be good this year. It really is. I’m impressed. I was impressed, I think some guys on their team have really, really improved. (Amir) Coffey, we recruited him, so I knew how good he was. But, you know, (Jordan) Murphy (12 points, 21 rebounds), (Dupree) McBrayer, and (Nate) Mason have improved a lot since last year. This is going to be a good team. They’re going to win a lot of games, I think.
On celebrating: “Until that plane’s wheels touch the ground, I’m gonna enjoy a victory because we’ve had a brutal stretch, and it’s been tough, and guys deserve to enjoy it.”