East Lansing — It was hardly a masterpiece, nothing that the Michigan State program will save and show to future teams as an example of how to play the perfect game.
But for the exhibition opener, Tom Izzo was about as pleased as he could be after Michigan State’s 101-52 victory over Grand Valley State on Tuesday at the Breslin Center.
Keith Appling was an impressive 5-for-7 from 3-point range and led the Spartans with 17 points, while Gary Harris overcame a slow start to add 15 and Travis Trice nailed three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points and four assists.
“All-in-all it was good,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It was great to see our two point guards out there. You can see why I said that we missed Trice (due to a concussion and broken nose) last year. Him and Keith played together, we played a bunch of different lineups and tried to do some things to see what different lineups we could use
“A couple of the negatives were the dribble drives and I thought we got way overextended and didn’t do a good job containing, and because of that gave up more offensive rebounds. That was disappointing; then the free-throw shooting.”
Grand Valley State did hurt Michigan State early in the game on drives to the basket and the Spartans finished just 19-for-31 from the line, including a 6-for-11 night from Harris, who is one of Michigan State’s best shooters.
But to Lakers coach Ric Wesley, there was plenty to like about Michigan State, ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“I’ve been here 10 years and I think that might have been the best team I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” he said. “Their size, quickness, athletic ability, boy. … And they’ve got such great experience, not only with the starters but what makes them so outstanding is the experience they’ve got on the bench. The guys they bring in — Trice, (Denzel) Valentine, (Alex) Gauna. Those guys have been here awhile and they’ve played in big games. There’s not much of a drop-off.”
While Michigan State did start slowly, it wiped away the sluggish start with a 17-4 run to close the first half and an energetic opening to the second half.
Harris, got things going early in the second half while Appling closed the deal.
After going 1-for-5 in the first half, Harris was 3-for-4 in the second half while Appling was outstanding from the field, shooting 6-for-9 and turning the ball over just twice.
“It was good, it felt good to get out there for the first time and play against some new people,” Harris said. “I feel like we ran the ball pretty well but kind of got overextended and the penetrated which allowed the offensive rebounds. But we had a lot of positives and there’s still a lot to work on still, so we’ll get back to the drawing board.”
Harris, who was hampered last season by shoulder injuries, made most of the crowd nervous in the second half when he hit the floor hard near midcourt. But he said he was fine.
“I heard a gasp (from the crowd),” he said. “It was pretty funny, but I was fine. I got up and, what did I do, miss a free throw? I was cool, though.”
Michigan State returns four starters this season, and they were all on the floor to open the game. Appling and Harris were joined by Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, while sophomore Matt Costello got the start at center. He split time with Alex Gauna and freshman Gavin Schilling.
Payne and Dawson each scored six points but both shot the ball well while Gauna looked good in stretches, scoring seven points and pulling down four rebounds. Costello also scored seven and Schilling chipped in four points and five rebounds. Sophomore Denzel Valentine was solid off the bench, as well, scoring eight points, grabbing six rebound and handing out five assists.
But the most welcome sight might have been the nine points from Russell Byrd, including a 2-for-2 showing from 3-point range. Byrd has been hampered by foot injuries since before he even came to Michigan State.
“Hitting a 3-pointer doesn’t make the world change,” Izzo said, “but he looked good, looked comfortable and confident. He’s the healthiest he’s been, by far, and I liked that everybody pulled for him.”
Michigan State played without redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski, who was suspended for the game for not meeting off-season expectations, Izzo said.
“Mostly it was for not meeting expectations I had this summer,” Izzo said. “It’s not anything we’re breaking the bank over and there’s no eligibility issues, but we had some meetings he was supposed to take care of and he didn’t get it done. I told him he would miss the first two or three games. He will be back and he’s actually doing very well now, so hopefully that will be the end of it.”