EAST LANSING - Tom Izzo watched from first row seats along the baseline as Foster Loyer practiced free throws at halftime, squarely in the high school junior’s line of vision.
Izzo wasn’t trying to be noticed. He wasn’t trying to affect Loyer. He was just watching the MSU point guard commitment. And Loyer apparently never noticed his future head coach. That’s how locked-in Loyer was during his 32-point, seven-assist performance during Clarkston High School’s 78-35 victory over West Bloomfield in the Class A semifinals, Saturday at Breslin Center.
“I’ve got to kind of just block everything out for right now,” Loyer said. “I knew quite a few people were going to be here, but it’s about going into that game trying to take care of what I have to take care of and the rest will fall in.”
With the victory, Loyer and Clarkston advance to today’s Class A state championship game (1 p.m., FSD).
Izzo won’t be allowed to comment on Loyer publicly until Loyer signs a national letter of intent in November. But he had to like what he saw out of the 5-foot-11 junior guard, who spent some time at point, and time at the off guard in riddling West Bloomfield’s defense.
Loyer’s performance was arguably the best by a Michigan State commitment in a semifinal since Drew Neitzel blistered Detroit Renaissance for 36 points in a losing effort in the 2004 Class B final four.
Neitzel had to be a volume scorer that night, going 11-of-24 from the floor, often hitting difficult, off-balance shots to keep his team competitive.
Loyer was 10-of-17 from the field and 5-of-8 from 3-point range on Friday.
He was efficient, but prolific. Quick, but didn’t hurry. He played with a controlled pace and didn’t force a thing.
Most of his long-range shots had to be attempted quickly, against rapidly-closing windows. But his quick release and sound mechanics made each shot look like a good one as it came off his hand.
West Bloomfield coach Jeremy Denha said afterward that this was the best he had seen Loyer play, in the teams’ three meetings this year.
Loyer scored 12 in the first quarter as Clarkston took a 22-8 lead. He showed the quick release with a 3-pointer in transition from the right wing during that stretch.
He also nailed a 15-foot, pull-up off the glass, driving off a high screen.
“It’s not about coming out and scoring points, it’s about doing the little things to help your team and scoring will come,” Loyer said, “throwing that first punch as a team and setting that standard for how we were going to play for the rest of the game and how hard we were going to play.”
He stayed hot in the second quarter, pulling up for a 3-pointer from the right wing in transition, making it 30-13.
Then he pulled up from the left wing for a 3-pointer over West Bloomfield’s 6-foot-2 Kevin McAdoo Jr., a good athlete with an offer from the University of Buffalo. But Loyer wasn’t going to be stopped on this day. He had 20 at halftime.
He hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key midway through the third quarter. He added a pair of runout fast break lay-ups.
In the fourth quarter, he focused on his passing and getting others involved.
He added some flair to those passes, including a no-look zip to sophomore post man Taylor Currie for a lay-up.
And he executed a crossover dribble against McAadoo, drove the lane, and while in mid-air executed a bounce pass to Currie for a lay-up, and one.
“The coaches had a great game plan set up, and we had open shots and they were able to go in today,” Loyer said.
THE BOOK ON LOYER
In the comparison department, Loyer's short legs and crafty, deceptively fast crossover dribble are reminiscent of Bobby Hurley, aided by the fact that he can pull up off the crossover to nail 3-pointers - as the former Duke All-American used to do.
When hitting 3-pointers via a quick, compact release from the wing in transition, he’ll remind some of former Marquette guard Travis Diener, who helped take Marquette to the Final Four in 2003.
Leaving his feet for the mid-air bounce pass might remind some of Michigan guard Derrick Walton. Izzo might not be a fan of players leaving their feet to make a pass, but when a player seems mentally one step ahead of the defense, the venerable head coach might let it slide.
ON MICHIGAN STATE:
Loyer keeps in frequent contact with Izzo, but dialed it back for tournament time.
“Starting last week, there were a few texts here and there but mainly for the (advice) of: You have to be focused on what you’re doing and not what’s going on outside of our season," Loyer said.
Loyer will continue that focus for one more game against Grand Rapids Christian and senior big man Xavier Tillman, also an MSU commitment.
“I know Xavier extremely well,” Loyer said. “I played (AAU) with him two years ago for the Michigan Mustangs. I know a lot of the guys on their team, personally. They are great guys and great competitions and we are excited for tomorrow.”
Loyer and Tillman often saw each other and sat together at Breslin during the winter when taking unofficial visit to their future college home.
“The playoff bracket was released pretty early so we saw the only time we could meet up was in the state championship,” Loyer said. “So we wished each other luck. But when you step on the court everyone’s a competitor and I think everyone is going to be ready.”