Close call has Izzo wary as Michigan State meets WMU

·3 min read

Tom Izzo doesn't want outsiders to put his Michigan State basketball team on a pedestal.

The Spartans' performance on Friday night showed why Izzo prefers to downplay expectations. Eighth-ranked Michigan State struggled to beat Detroit Mercy 83-76 just three nights after upsetting No. 6 Duke on the road.

Michigan State faces another unheralded in-state opponent, Western Michigan, on Sunday in East Lansing.

"Those of you who think we're ready for the national championship because we beat Duke, readjust your theories," Izzo said. "We've got a lot of work and a long way to go."

Izzo was especially troubled by the performance of his frontcourt players. The Titans, who were making their season debut after an 8-23 season, made half of their 2-point attempts and nearly outrebounded the bigger Spartans.

"Our bigs, other than Marcus Bingham, really struggled," Izzo said. "They struggled to guard, struggled to rebound. A major, major disappointment that we've got to clean up."

Guard Rocket Watts was the main bright spot for the Spartans. He had a team-high 23 points and added four rebounds and four assists. Watts scored 20 points against Duke but got into foul trouble and had more turnovers than assists.

"That's the best I've seen him play -- ever," Izzo said after the Detroit Mercy game. "He was under control, he made good plays, he made great decisions and he played phenomenal defense. We spent a lot of time with him after the Duke game and he responded. That's what you hope for."

Gabe Brown was inserted into the starting lineup as Watts' backcourt partner after Joshua Langford was a late scratch. Brown contributed 16 points, including several key baskets in the late going.

Langford is dealing with a sore knee, and his status for the Sunday game is questionable.

"It was a coach's and trainer's decision more so than Josh's," Izzo said of sitting Langford, who has dealt with serious foot injuries in the past two seasons.

Western Michigan (0-1) was supposed to play at Notre Dame on Wednesday, but the game was canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing in the Broncos' program. There are signs that the game on Sunday will be played.

The Broncos have added a home game against Division III Adrian College on Monday, so the trip to East Lansing will be the front end of a back-to-back.

In their lone outing, the Broncos lost at Butler 66-62 on Nov. 25. That marked the head coaching debut of Clayton Bates, a longtime assistant under former coach Steve Hawkins.

Bates was pleased with the way his team hung around until the finish against a Big East opponent.

"We can and will learn from (this game)," Bates said. "We asked each other to cherish the opportunity to compete together. There were a lot of positives we can take from the game, as well as many opportunities where we can learn and get better."

B. Artis White got off to a strong start with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He was the team's third-leading scorer last season at 7.3 points per game.

The Broncos were picked to finish last in a preseason poll of the Mid-American Conference's coaches.

--Field Level Media