Izzo pushing Spartans harder in practice

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Matt McQuaid

East Lansing — After an off-day on Wednesday, Michigan State was back on the court Thursday afternoon as it continues to work through the non-conference portion of the season.

The Spartans will host Tennessee Tech at 2 p.m. on Saturday and they will still be without freshman forward Miles Bridges as he works his way back from an injured left ankle.

Bridges was joined briefly on the sidelines Thursday as sophomore guard Matt McQuaid was forced out of practice after taking a shot to the head from teammate Nick Ward.

“I guess he got hit in the head when Nick got pushed and knocked into McQuaid, who was up by the 3-point line,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “The back of Nick’s head hit (McQuaid), so they took him out because he wasn’t feeling good.”

Whether the issue lingers for McQuaid was unclear after practice.

“Your guess is mine,” Izzo said. “He’s still alive so he’s doing all right.”

It’s all part of Michigan State (6-4) pushing harder in practice over the next couple of weeks now that it’s past a difficult November, when it lost four games to some of the top teams in the country.

Moving forward without Bridges is not ideal, but there are few options at this point. That’s why Izzo is pushing his team a bit harder than he might at this time of year.

“This will be a relentless push each and every day,” Izzo said. “That’s our mission now. We got our butts kicked in a lot of games early and we need to make sure we find a way to be kicking before we’re done.”

Several players took steps toward getting it done in Tuesday’s win over Youngstown State, including three freshmen. Joshua Langford scored a career-high 15 points while Cassius Winston was impressive running the offense again, handing out nine assists. And Ward continued to take steps offensively.

Their development will be vital over the next couple of weeks, especially that of Langford, who has drawn speculation on whether his confidence might have been hurt by some early struggles.

“I don’t worry about confidence,” Izzo said. “That’s the biggest phony thing in coaches. Every parent wants confidence, every media guy wants confidence, every fan wants confidence.

“I’ll tell you something — players earn confidence by what they do. Josh has been really good and he’s getting better. He’s got to get in much better shape. And he’s got to realize not to be so hard on himself. That’s not about confidence, that’s about habits. We’ve got to break the bad habit.

“That kid has got incredible ability. He’s an unbelievable kid, and a good student. But that doesn’t make you a good player; it give you the opportunity to be a good player. Sooner or later you’ve got to be demanding of yourself. But if you do all of the work and in you’re in shape, your confidence will come.”

Izzo is sure he’ll continue to see that confidence grow for the entire roster, and working them hard in practice is one big step.

“We’ve just got to play harder,” Izzo said. “That’s the M.O. this weekend. We’ve got to play harder, put more pressure on the ball and start doing the things we need to do to get better for the year to come.”

Tennessee Tech at Michigan State

Tip-off: 2 p.m. Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WJR

Records: Tennessee Tech 4-6, Michigan State 6-4

Outlook: Junior guard Aleksa Jugovic leads the Golden Eagles at 17.4 points per game. Senior guard Kajon Mack averages 10.0.