Spartans guard Nairn regains confidence out west

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Fullerton, Calif. — Sometimes, nothing’s fundamentally wrong.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of confidence.

That’s how Michigan State coach Tom Izzo explains some of the early struggles for Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, which, just like that, are a thing of the past.

Nairn is having a brilliant tournament in the Wooden Legacy, sparking the Spartans with his own long-range shots, his unselfishness and his defense.

As much as anybody but maybe Denzel Valentine, Nairn is the reason MSU was able to get past Boise State, 77-67, on Friday to advance to Sunday’s championship game.

“Tum’s having his best tournament, maybe his best two-game stretch since he’s been here,” Izzo said. “He plays with energy, he plays hard, he’s pushing the ball hard.”

Nairn, a sophomore guard, had 10 points and 13 assists, total, through four games.

These two games in California, he has 22 points and 15 assists.

Four of those assists came on Valentine’s four consecutive 3-pointers at a pivotal turning point in Friday’s game.

Even better for Izzo, those 15 assists have come without a single turnover.

Nairn worked his tail off over the summer, with crack-of-dawn shoot-arounds every day to get his shot down, but then was slowed by a bout of plantar fasciitis.

That limited his practice this month.

“I think he lost confidence and needed a game like last night to get some confidence,” Izzo said of Nairn, who made his first two 3-pointers of the season Thursday against Boston College. “He looks better now.

“The shot wasn’t broken. He just needed to have some confidence.”

Izzo still flashes anger

Izzo couldn’t rave enough about Valentine and Nairn.

But he’s got issues with just about everybody else, particularly the big men, who missed an insane number of looks from close-range in the first half Friday.

“We got more than that,” Izzo said. “We just gotta get more out of more people.”

Guard Eron Harris, the transfer from West Virginia, particularly caught Izzo’s ire for his lackluster defense.

“There’s no way anybody should go by Bryn (Forbes) or go by Eron Harris. He might be the best athlete on the team,” Izzo said, as Valentine and Nairn nodded their heads.

“I’ll give anybody a chance to miss shots, even throw the ball away, but effort-related things just can’t be tolerated.”

A few moments later, Izzo softened the comments on the effort, saying the fact Harris has sat out a year and a half could be affecting his game.

Boise State impressed

It was another outstanding game from Valentine, who’s setting all sorts of records in the Wooden Legacy.

“Denzel had a stretch where he was unbelievable,” Izzo said. “But I didn’t think it was his best game, which is good news for me.”

Try convincing Boise State coach Leon Rice of that.

“Every whisper of room Valentine had, he makes you pay,” Rice said. “I mean, he’s playing at the highest level right now. He’s playing smart, too. That’s what’s so impressive about him. He doesn’t seem to force things. He knows when to shoot, when to pass, when to get his teammates involved.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody out there playing as good as him right now.”

Slam dunks

Nairn will get to play in front of some hometown fans next November, as it was officially announced Friday that Michigan State will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas in 2016. Other teams in the field: Louisville, Wichita State, Baylor, LSU, VCU, St. John’s and Old Dominion.

... Michigan State players were heading to Disneyland on Friday night, and after some film Saturday, they will watch the MSU-Penn State football game at a bar in Anaheim along with Izzo and at least 700 Spartans fans who bought tickets.

... Izzo’s favorite stat from Friday: 23 of MSU’s 25 field goals included an assist.

“That’s gonna carry us leaps and bounds,” Izzo said.