East Lansing — Time is going quickly for Tum Tum Nairn these days, and the Michigan State senior is well aware.
After practice this week, the point guard was talking about the No. 1-ranked Spartans resuming Big Ten play on Thursday night against Maryland and contemplating what it would mean to win a conference championship.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Nairn said, “especially for me, it being my last year and already playing two Big Ten games.”
It’s that “being my last year” part that slowed Nairn for a second.
“I got to thinking, I’ve only got eight more home games left,” Nairn said with a shake of his head.
To Nairn and many Michigan State fans, it seems like yesterday he was a freshman, inserted into the starting lineup halfway through the season and riding a wave of momentum all the way to the Final Four. He expected that to happen again, especially the next season when Michigan State entered the NCAA Tournament as the favorite.
But the run never got started with a stunning loss to Middle Tennessee State, and after a second-round exit last season, Nairn is doing his best to soak up every moment of his final season, however it might end.
“It’s going by too fast,” he said. “We’re done with half the season already. I try not to think so far ahead but senior night is next month. But I’m cool with it. I’m ready for it.”
Nairn entered this season having started 65 games in his career, but this season he has moved to a reserve role as sophomore Cassius Winston has taken over. The two have played together a decent amount, and coach Tom Izzo has praised Nairn often for his leadership and pushing Winston to have the breakout season he’s had.
In a win over Southern Utah, it was Nairn that pushed to get Winston going, as the sophomore scored 15 points.
“He says, ‘Coach, I can get Cassius some shots,’ and told me a couple things to run,” Izzo said. “You know, it’s not easy to be Cassius coming in here, a highly ranked kid, and Tum starts most of last year and then Tum started for three years, now coming off the bench. I think that alone tells you a lot about it, and he’s (Winston’s) biggest cheerleader.”
Nairn intends to keep cheering and keep pushing. And he’ll keep playing, providing suffocating defense and leading the fast break.
If it ends in that return trip to the Final Four, then great. Until then, Nairn has the Spartans focused on one goal — winning the Big Ten outright, something he hasn’t done.
“Oh man. Everything. It would mean everything to me,” he said. “To be able to say we’re the best team in the Big Ten, only great teams can do that. That’s one goal and we’ll continue to strive for it each and every day.”
Carter on mend
Senior forward Ben Carter has missed the last two games with an injured right ankle and his status entering Thursday’s game remained up in the air.
Izzo said Carter is being brought back slowly to avoid any unintended injury to Carter’s surgically repaired left knee.
“It’s more mental with him,” Izzo said. “It’s his right ankle and his left knee and they don’t want him to overcompensate and then it screws up the knee. We just don’t want to take any chances. But he’s been through a lot and I think he is struggling with the mental part of getting back more than the physical part.”
Izzo’s wife, Lupe, will chair the annual food drive held by the Rebounders Club and the MSU Packaging School at the Breslin Center, prior to the Jan. 13 game against Michigan.
Cash donations are welcome and preferred due to the Food Bank’s ability to buy more food at a lower cost. Commercially packaged food items will be collected as well. Last year’s drive set a record in cash donations with $16,717.90, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Greater Lansing and MSU Student Food Banks.
… Michigan State enters the game second in the nation in field-goal percentage (53.1) and have shot better than 60 percent in each of the last four games.
… The Spartans have scored 100 points or more in four straight games, the first men’s Division I team to do so since VMI in 2006-07.