Michigan State's Kyle Ahrens re-injures back, status uncertain
Iowa City, Iowa — Michigan State’s injury situation continues to be a mixed bag.
Just as there are encouraging signs with Joshua Langford and his recovery from an injury to his left ankle, things went the wrong direction with guard Kyle Ahrens.
The junior missed two games with a back injury before returning to play 12-plus minutes in Monday’s victory at home over Maryland. However, in the second half of No. 6 Michigan State’s 82-67 win over No. 19 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Ahrens dove for a loose ball and tweaked his back.
He came out of the game and did not return, leaving his status for Sunday’s game at Purdue up in the air.
“No idea,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said on Ahrens’ status. “They just told me he couldn’t play anymore this game. But he gave me everything he could give me. It’s hard because he got back-cut a couple of times.
“(The back) is stiff. It’s not where it needs to be. Consequently, it’s un-Arnie-like. Usually nobody back-cuts him.”
The uncertainty with Ahrens comes as Michigan State (18-2, 9-0 Big Ten) was starting to feel like it was close to being healthy. As Ahrens returned to the lineup, Langford has slowly been making strides toward getting back on the court.
Langford, the team’s third-leading scorer, missed his seventh straight game on Thursday and almost certainly won’t play on Sunday at Purdue, but Izzo is happy that things at least seem to be heading in the right direction.
“He’s closer,” Izzo said. “He shot the other day and … him shooting excites me and that’s not a good sign. That means he’s got a ways to go yet because he’s just shooting, but it is a good step. I do feel like he’s getting a little better. He played a little one-on-one the other day but it’s not gonna be in the near-near future and hopefully not in the far-far future.
“I’m almost more worried about Kyle right now and we thought we’d get him back. He played better in the second half and I probably can’t sit him on bench that long in the first half and then put him in. (The back) is too stiff for that.
“So, I don’t know. We’ll just keep plugging away and mixing and matching some people. It’s frustrating and fun at the same time, if that makes any sense.”
Kithier pitches in
For the second straight game Michigan State’s big men got in early foul trouble, and for the second straight game freshman Thomas Kithier found himself logging critical minutes.
He played well in the win over Maryland on Monday when Nick Ward was on the bench, and on Thursday he got the call when Xavier Tillman played just 2:32 of the first half because of foul trouble. It was another solid showing for Kithier, who scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in seven first-half minutes. He finished the game with six points and five rebounds.
“It wasn’t in game plan if you want the truth,” Izzo said. “We were in so much foul trouble (Tillman) right away. … We were just stuck and put him in, just like we stuck with him against Maryland and put him in.
“That has helped those guys on the scout team, they know the other team’s offense but they’re going against Nick and X and Kenny (Goins) every day. Both (Kithier) and, believe it or not, Marcus Bingham have gotten better because of what they’ve done in practice.”
Michigan State, which has won 13 straight games, has now won 21 consecutive Big Ten games dating to last season. The Spartans have also won their last 12 conference road games, both school records.
… Michigan State’s 9-0 start in conference play matches the best Big Ten start in Izzo’s career. The 2009-10 team was 9-0 before losing at Wisconsin. In 1998-99, the Spartans lost the conference opener at Wisconsin before winning 15 straight.