Javon Bess shows 'nose for the ball' in MSU debut

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State freshman Javon Bess shoots over the top of Eastern Michigan's Jerome Hunter (21) in the second half Wednesday in East Lansing.

East Lansing — Javon Bess had a pretty good idea he was going to play in his first game on Wednesday. The freshman just wasn't sure how much that would be.

But when senior Branden Dawson went down with an injured wrist in the second half of No. 25 Michigan State's 66-46 victory over Eastern Michigan at the Breslin Center, the idea of him getting in and out of the game quickly went out the window.

"When he went down I tried to stay loose on the bench and be ready when my name was called," Bess said.

And with 13:54 left in the game, Bess checked in after missing the first 10 games of the season with a broken right foot.

"It was just a blessing to be out there with my teammates," the 6-foot-5 guard said. "I was so excited and really anxious. I got in and felt good and felt calm after a couple of trips down the court. Travis (Trice) and Denzel (Valentine) and the coaches did a good job of calming me down and keeping me relaxed in the game. I was focused. I didn't hear (the cheering) when I came in the game."

Bess played nine minutes and scored one point when he split a pair of free throws. He also grabbed five rebounds and played the high post on offense against the Eastern Michigan zone.

"We're missing a tough guy and he brings that to the table," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I just think he's gonna be an Alan Anderson type and we can play him a bunch of different positions. But he's got a nose for the ball. He gets those rebounds and he's not jumping like he can and not as quick as he can be. He's a warrior. I told you that when we got him, told you that when we lost him and told you that when we got him back.

"We're a ways away but I think Christmas (break) will be a good time for him."

Bess said he got winded late in the game and will take the next couple of weeks as the Spartans finish off non-conference play to get in sync with his teammates.

"It is very important for me so I can refresh on the plays and get my wind back up," Bess said. "The next few weeks will be huge so I can get back to normal before Big Ten season starts."

Forbes sheds brace

Bryn Forbes has been one of the best shooters in the Big Ten with a brace on his broken left hand. So the was as relieved as anyone when he got to play Wednesday for the first time without a brace.

"It felt good," Forbes said. "Now I've got to get used to playing without the brace, but it felt pretty good."

Forbes was shooting 51.1 percent from 3-point range entering the game and was 3-for-6 against Eastern Michigan. He is now 13-for-19 in the last four games. He was good against the Eagles, but the Spartans were just 7-for-21 for the game.

"It felt different but I wasn't too concerned about it," Forbes said. "I was just playing with it. We've got good enough passers to find open guys and some shots weren't falling that usually fall, but I'm not too concerned over it."

Eastern has tournament look

Eastern Michigan hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1997-98. But after winning 22 games last season and entering Wednesday's game with an 8-1 mark, the Eagles look like a team that contend in the Mid-American Conference and get back to the tournament.

Izzo believes coach Rob Murphy has his team at that point.

"I definitely do," Izzo said. "I think in that conference, that zone is going to give a lot of people problems. … I don't know what will happen, but I like their team."

After the game, Murphy talked about what Izzo has meant to his career, going back to when Murphy was the coach at Detroit Crockett and Izzo was recruiting Maurice Ager.

"We have a great relationship," said Murphy, who is in his fourth season at Eastern Michigan. "I used to work his camp when I was a high school coach and he recruited Maurice and through that we built a great relationship. Even though we play zone, my program is built on defense and rebounding, the same thing Michigan State is built on. There are a lot of his traits and characteristics in me. He's a great man and is always there when I need to call and talk to him. He's a great person and I appreciate the support he has given me."

Defense shines

Michigan State's offense has drawn plenty of attention through 10 games, leading the nation in 3-point shooting.

But the defense has been pretty solid, too.

Over the last eight games entering Wednesday night, Michigan State is holding opponents to 58.8 points and 35.7 shooting, including 26.7 from 3-point range. Overall, Michigan State is limiting teams to 61 points on 37.9 shooting, including 28.7 from 3-point range. The Spartans are second in the Big Ten in 3-point field shooting defense and fifth in shooting defense.