MSU freshmen find their feet on biggest of stages

Brown, Henry push Spartans into Elite Eight


Photo: Andrew Herner/WDBM

Joey Ellis, Senior Contributor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In Michigan State’s 80-63 Sweet 16 win over LSU, freshmen Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown combined for 35 points. Just the way the scouting report was drawn up, right?

“Oh yeah, most definitely, that was part of our game plan, get those guys going early,” Cassius Winston said, smirking from ear-to-ear. “They were great though tonight, just taking advantage of their spots, playing within themselves. They didn’t force anything and they just lived up to the moment, that’s all you can ask for from them.”

Friday night was one in which Winston didn’t have his sharpest effort, finishing with 17 points on a modest 7-for-16 clip, but it was Henry’s aggressiveness and Brown’s sharpshooting that helped punch MSU’s ticket to its first Elite 8 since 2015.

“Gabe’s been working. He knows he can shoot it,” head coach Tom Izzo said of his freshman, who poured in a career-high 15 points thanks in part to a personal-best four 3-pointers. “And Gabe was — I’m not kidding you, I think 15 points. I’m not sure he scored that this year.”

Following a solid 9-point, 9-rebound outing in the previous round against Minnesota, Henry followed that up Friday night with his best all-around outing in a Spartan uniform. The Indianapolis native poured in a career-high 20 points on an efficient 9-of-14 performance. It wasn’t just the freshman’s scoring, however, as he pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists, all in 38 minutes of work.

“It was one of those nights where I thought the basket was huge,” Henry said following the game. “And Coach put me in great spots to score. It was all key tonight. It just wasn’t on me. Thanks to my coach and my players for doing that for me.”

On a night which Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins combined to go just 4-for-16 for 12 points, the contributions from the freshmen, in the biggest of moments, was the juice the Spartans needed.

“This has been the way my team has been. Somebody just steps up,” Izzo said of his team’s “next man up” mantra. “…When Josh went down, it was Kyle a little bit then and Aaron Henry a little bit more. And then McQuaid started playing better. And when Kyle went down, it’s Gabe’s turn.”

Four different Spartans found themselves in double figures, a model that could become imperative down the stretch in their quest for Minneapolis. As Michigan State awaits its Elite 8 matchup between either Virginia Tech or Duke, contributions like the freshmen’s Friday night certainly wouldn’t hurt.