Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, left, has words for official Larry Scirotto during the second half in Tuesday's 72-68 overtime victory over No. 3 Ohio State. (Al Goldis / Associated Press)
East Lansing — During Michigan State’s victory over Ohio State on Tuesday, coach Tom Izzo looked on the verge of losing it.
As he watched his team allow a 17-point lead evaporate before defeating No. 3 Ohio State in overtime, ESPN cameras caught Izzo in multiple stages of frustration, culminating when he got in Denzel Valentine’s face after the sophomore guard lost the ball out of bounds trying to dribble behind his back.
“He was very intense,” sophomore Matt Costello said. “But honestly, it’s what he brings to the table every day. That guy you see going crazy at the refs, going crazy at (Valentine), going crazy at everybody, that’s what we see every day.
“That’s what you expect coming to Michigan State. He is a genius, but some geniuses are nuts, and we love him for it.”
Izzo tried to explain why the intensity exists. He’s certainly always been a fiery coach, but this year’s team is different.
Many analysts believe it is the best team in the Big Ten, and maybe the nation. As Izzo said himself, it might be the best team he’s had since the Spartans won the national championship in 2000. And, frankly, Izzo isn’t about to take it easy with them.
“I know my team and I know expectations are high by all of you, but they aren’t as high as mine are, and all those fans that say I’m a little too hard on them and this and that, more is expected,” Izzo said. “I just know over the years, to me I know what it takes to win. I know when there’s things that aren’t done.”
That’s why, even after a big victory between two top-five teams, Izzo was far from happy.
Granted, the Spartans were without guard Travis Trice while guard Keith Appling and forward Adreian Payne were ailing and guard Gary Harris still wasn’t 100 percent after missing three games with a sprained ankle.
Izzo praised Appling and Payne and understands Harris wasn’t quite ready to play 42 minutes, but still won’t use those issues as excuses to back off a team he thinks can become great.
“I think guys have got to learn how to suck it up,” he said. “It’s part of the nature of the beast. If you get deeper into the tournament, somebody gets hurt, I don’t plan on giving up my dream. So was I tough on my guys about it? That wasn’t the norm. It really wasn’t.
“That was probably the most upset I’ve been after a big win because I just didn’t think we did the things you’ve got to do to be a great team. So the only thing I care about is, did we learn from it? We watched the film, I think we learned some things from it.”
Finding a way to win on a night it looked like a loss had become imminent at least shows something, Costello said.
“Honestly, we just fell apart in the last 6 to 7 minutes,” he said. “But to be able to come back from that and just pull each other together shows that we have a little bit of heart.”
The Spartans will get the chance to prove they have learned something today against the Gophers, a team that has won two straight after dropping its Big Ten opener.
Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins are the leading scorers under first-year Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, who also has gotten a lift from transfer DeAndre Mathieu (11.6 points, 4.4 assists).
“He’s quicker than quick and he’s very dangerous,” Izzo said of Mathieu. “This is a better team than the one last year and a more experienced team.”
But, Izzo believes his team is better, and with or without Trice or Payne today — both remain questionable — he’ll be pushing his team to reach its potential. And that’s a Final Four.
“I do think we have the different ingredients it takes,” he said. “Inside game some, our point guard is getting better and better, we have a big-time shooter.
“So yeah, those are the dreams, those are the goals.”