Tum Tum Nairn can thank the Illini for his new starting job.
After a debilitating loss to Illinois at the Breslin on February 7, changes needed to be made. With Travis Trice struggling mightily and the offense AWOL, Coach Izzo needed to do something to get his team out of a funk before it was too late.
“Probably not the most disappointed I’ve been, but I’m the maddest I’ve been,” said Izzo after the loss. “I can’t stomach that; I can’t stomach what we went through today, so I understand if people aren’t able to stomach it. We’ll regroup.”
And regroup they did. Tum Tum was inserted into the starting lineup the following game in Evanston and the offense immediately perked up. The Spartans crushed Northwestern 68-44, hitting 13 3-pointers, including four from a rejuvenated Trice. When Tum Tum was running the point, the offense ran much quicker and more efficiently. Nairn is one of the fastest guards in the country and he pushes the ball 100 miles per hour up the court.
In the epic showdown with the Buckeyes (enter Valentine pun here), Izzo stuck with Tum Tum in the starting lineup against a taller and heavier D’Angelo Russell. In the opening possession, Russell backed down Tum Tum with ease, but after that he played tough and scrappy defense. Nairn hit all three of his shots, pulled down five rebounds and dished four assists. Trice only had nine points, but converted a huge driving layup to put MSU up three with 1:16 left.
The cherry on top came in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, when the Spartans steamrolled Michigan 80-67. Trice once again came off the bench and had one of his best performances of the season. The senior went off for 22 points and seven assists. Now MSU is peaking at exactly the right time.
Five games remain on the schedule, including a rematch against Illinois in Champaign on Sunday. If the Spartans want to solidify their chances of dancing in March, they must win this game. Spartan fans, it is ok to take your finger off the panic button (I think I already broke mine) but this team is not out of the woods yet. March is a long ways away.
Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone and a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports