Fresh­men see plenty of time

With Lang­ford, Ahrens out, Izzo looks to young­sters

The Detroit News - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY MATT CHARBONEAU The De­troit News

State Col­lege, Pa. — It wasn’t ex­actly how Michi­gan State fresh­man Aaron Henry wanted to get this first ca­reer start, but he ad­mit­ted it was a big mo­ment, none­the­less.

Tak­ing over for the in­jured Kyle Ahrens, Henry played a ca­reer-high 25 min­utes in No. 6 Michi­gan State’s 71-56 vic­tory over Penn State at the Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter on Sun­day.

“It was huge,” Henry said. “It was huge for me and my fam­ily, ob­vi­ously. I got the nod ear­lier this week and told my dad and mom and we were ex­cited about it. It’s not the way I wanted with two guys be­ing in­jured, but in­di­vid­u­ally it was a great day for me.”

It’s been a steady climb for Henry, the one mem­ber of the five-per­son fresh­men class that has been a reg­u­lar part of the Spar­tans’ ro­ta­tion. He had big mo­ments early in the sea­son, namely eight points and six re­bounds he had in 21 min­utes in a vic­tory over Texas. And he was im­por­tant down the stretch in last week­end’s vic­tory at Ohio State.

But with Joshua Lang­ford miss­ing his fourth straight game be­cause of an an­kle in­jury and Kyle Ahrens out be­cause of a bad back, the Spar­tans turned to Henry in the start­ing lineup along with ex­tended min­utes for fresh­men Gabe Brown and Fos­ter Loyer.

Brown played a ca­reer-high 21 min­utes and had three points and four re­bounds while Loyer had ar­guably his best game, scor­ing seven points and com­mit­ting only one turnover in 11 min­utes, hit­ting two big jumpers in the first half.

“They were more poised out there, lot more con­fi­dent,” ju­nior guard Cas­sius Win­ston said of the fresh­men. “Fos­ter did good job find­ing his spots, lead­ing the team, hold­ing it down. He was solid out there. Gabe did a great job re­bound­ing and bring­ing ef­fort. They got out there and weren’t ner­vous or any­thing and played with poise and played their role.”

As well as Henry and Brown played, the con­tin­ued pro­gres­sion for Loyer could be one of the most im­por­tant devel­op­ments for Michi­gan State. More of­ten, Win­ston is be­ing asked to play 35 min­utes a game while ju­nior Matt McQuaid fre­quently fills in at point guard.

But as Loyer has got­ten more com­fort­able, his play­ing time as in­creased.

“For me the big­gest thing is go out and play my game,” Loyer said. “Part of my game is go in there and knock down open shots and put my team­mates in a po­si­tion to win. Whether it’s knock­ing down shots or mak­ing a pass, I’m gonna go out there and do what­ever I have to do. To have two shots go down in first half was big for me. I was just able to go out there and help the team win.”

Izzo, who is no­to­ri­ously hard on his point guards, was pleased with Loyer.

“He did a pretty good job, made some good plays, a cou­ple nice passes and made a cou­ple nice shots,” Izzo said. “That was one of his bet­ter games. And again, it’s hard to eval­u­ate him be­cause at times the three fresh­men were in at the same time. Those aren’t Duke’s fresh­man. No in­sult to us, just fact of life, and that makes it hard on a point guard.”

Re­serve re­port

The sta­tus of Lang­ford and Ahrens will weigh heav­ily on how much the fresh­men con­tinue to see reg­u­lar play­ing time.

Lang­ford has now missed four games be­cause of an in­jured left an­kle. Izzo said ear­lier in the week that he hopes to have a bet­ter idea early this week as to where Lang­ford is. The plan was to re­move the boot from his left foot and see how the an­kle has re­sponded to treat­ment.

As for Ahrens, who is listed as day-to-day, it’s been harder to pin­point ex­actly when he first hurt his back. Izzo said he be­lieved Ahrens tweaked his back in the Ohio State vic­tory on a drive and dunk where he landed awk­wardly and ag­gra­vated it on Tues­day against Penn State when he hit the floor hard while try­ing to draw a charge.

“We’re gonna have to get bet­ter with those fresh­men un­til we get those other guys back,” Izzo said. “It might not be for a while. I have no idea. You can’t make ex­cuses but Aaron and Gabe gotta get a lot bet­ter, es­pe­cially Aaron be­cause he’s ca­pa­ble of do­ing more and he’s got to do more.”

Win­ning streak

Michi­gan State matched a pro­gram record by win­ning its 18th straight reg­u­lar-sea­son Big Ten game. The Spar­tans won their fi­nal 12 games of the 2017-18 reg­u­lar sea­son and have won six straight this sea­son.

The record for con­sec­u­tive con­fer­ence wins was set when Michi­gan State won the fi­nal 15 games in 1998-99 be­fore win­ning the first three in 1999-2000. The Spar­tans have also won their last 10 con­fer­ence road games, a school record.

Chris Knight/As­so­ci­ated Press

Tom Izzo says his fresh­men need to keep pro­duc­ing if MSU is to con­tinue its win­ning ways.

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