Tom Izzo has to be feeling good about his team after its thrilling 79-73 victory over No. 4 Kansas on Tuesday.
His freshmen stepped up at big moments, with Matt McQuaid hitting clutch three-pointers and Deyonta Davis sinking free throws to put the cherry on top of signature victory. His sophomore forward Javon Bess got significant minutes and defended Kansas star forward Perry Ellis effectively. And of course, his senior leaders powered the team to a win, highlighted by Denzel Valentine’s first career triple-double and Matt Costello’s improved post play.
Sometimes however, coaches like Izzo learn the most about their team in the game immediately following emotionally charged contests like Tuesday night’s in Chicago. Teams like Michigan State cannot have a letdown against lower-rated opponents, or else the season’s goals will be harmed.
This is why tonight’s game (tipoff set for 7:00 p.m.) against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions matters. The Lions will stride into the Breslin Center looking to shock the nation and upset the No. 13 Michigan State Spartans.
This is the life of a top-ranked team in any sport. Every lowly opponent that MSU faces this season will be treating that game as their Super Bowl. The Spartans will get every team’s best shot and cannot afford to take a day off. Tonight, Tom Izzo will learn if his squad is ready to take every team’s biggest punches throughout this nonconference season.
Meet the Golden Lions
Head Coach: George Ivory, eighth season, 90-132 overall, 70-52 in Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) play
Current record: 1-1 (Defeated Seattle University and lost to Oklahoma State University)
2014-15 record: 13-19 overall, 9-9 in SWAC play
Player to watch: Senior forward JoVaughn Love. Love stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 220 pounds, so he will look to dominate down low. He has led the team in scoring in both of their games so far this season, scoring 15 against Seattle and 21 against Oklahoma State. He also averaged eight rebounds per game in those contests.
Last year’s matchup: Michigan State cruised by UAPB, 85-52, at the Breslin Center. Five Spartans scored in double figures, led by Matt Costello and Travis Trice with 15 points each.
Did you know? The Golden Lions were banned from postseason play by the NCAA last season, due to an eligibility certification scandal.