East Lansing — Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn didn't expect to play 36 minutes in Michigan State's 59-56 victory over Ohio State on Saturday.
But what was even more surprising for the freshman point guard was the 3-pointer he hit in the first half.
"I'm glad that we were the recipient of his first career 3-point shot," Ohio State coach Thad Matta deadpanned after the game.
That's because, in just his third career start, Nairn hasn't exactly been known as a scoring threat, especially from the perimeter. Entering Saturday's game he had attempted just three from beyond the arc all season and had yet to hit one.
But his first against Ohio State was big, cutting into the Buckeyes' 18-13 lead, the largest deficit the Spartans faced on Saturday.
Even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo could have fun with it after the game.
"That 3-pointer was diagrammed and we put that in last night," he joked. "It's called the sneak attack. When he shot it, it was one of those 'oh (geez) … nice shot.' "
However, as improbable as the make seemed on the surface, it wasn't purely luck. The pass-first point guard has spent plenty oftime working on his shot this season, showing up at the practice facility at 6:30 on most mornings.
"It's a sacrifice for the game and I have been sacrificing my whole life," said Nairn, who left his home in the Bahamas at age 13 to play basketball in the U.S. "I was wide open and shot the ball with confidence like I do. I make lots of shots with nobody on me (in practice), so it was basically like a practice shot."
Heading into Michigan State's game at Michigan on Tuesday, the Spartans won't likely be looking for a ton of scoring out of Nairn, but they would love another performance like he had against Ohio State.
Not only did Nairn play a career-high 36 minutes, he had seven points, five rebounds and four assists. And he played a part in holding Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, the Big Ten's leading scorer in conference games (20.8 points per game), to just 10 points.
"Defense is what I take pride in," Nairn said. "My favorite part of practice is the defensive part of practice, and I love to defend. (Russell) was a tough cover because he had three or four inches on me, but I really play defense with my heart."
It appears playing time will continue to be abundant for Nairn. He started for the second consecutive game with senior Travis Trice coming off the bench, and that situation is unlikely to change against the Wolverines.
"It's an amazing feeling as a freshman playing all those minutes under Coach Izzo and in this big-time program," Nairn said. "I'm humbled by it."
And is teammates are happy to have him playing at this level headed into the final stretch of the regular season.
"Tum has been intense ever since he stepped on campus," senior Branden Dawson said. "He always plays with passion and intensity. Tum doesn't care if he gets two points and we win, that is the kind of guy he is. What he feeds off is playing defense and getting guys involved. To have a guy like that on the team means a lot."
Michigan State at Michigan
Tipoff: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: ESPN/WJR, WWJ
Records: Michigan State 17-8 (8-4 Big Ten), Michigan 13-12 (6-7)
Previous: On Feb. 1 in East Lansing, Michigan State won in overtime, 76-66