Irate Izzo draws needed response from freshman Aaron Henry
Des Moines, Iowa – While television viewers around the nation were getting a glimpse into what it’s like to play for Tom Izzo, Aaron Henry had no time to feel sorry for himself.
No. 2 Michigan State found itself in a dogfight with No. 15 Bradley on Thursday in the first round of the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, and the freshman wing wasn’t playing well. Early in the second half, as Michigan State was trying to regain momentum with a 10-0 run, Bradley called a timeout. As Henry walked back to the bench, Izzo laid into Henry, pointing his finger toward Henry's chest.
Junior Cassius Winston pushed Izzo back and later in the huddle, senior Matt McQuaid pulled Izzo back into his seat as the coach kept going after Henry.
Quite frankly, it was like any other night playing for Izzo, but with all the eyes on the NCAA Tournament, the clip blew up on social media and was followed by plenty of national voices criticizing Izzo.
Henry wasn’t spending much time worrying about it.
“It’s OK. He’s gonna yell,” Henry said. “You gotta accept it and listen to what he’s saying and apply it to the game. You can’t listen to how he says it.”
Henry continued a minute later.
“You know he’s gonna chew you out when he calls you over there,” Henry said. “It’s nothing new, it’s just responding to it, accepting the coaching, not having a pity party for yourself, just being a basketball player and go respond.”
So, with the game on the line, that’s just what Henry did. After a 3-pointer from McQuaid gave Michigan State a 61-55 lead, the Spartans went to Henry in the post and he scored in the paint to put the Spartans up, 63-55, with 2:41 to play. Thirty seconds later, he hit two free throws as Michigan State avoided the upset with a 76-65 victory.
“The cool thing is,” Izzo said, “we went back to him and he responded.”
It’s the same method Izzo has used frequently in his 24-year career. And Henry is a perfect example. As the Spartans have lost Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens to injury this year, it’s meant Henry hasn’t been afforded much leeway in this maturating as a player. The Spartans need him, and for parts of Thursday’s game, he wasn’t getting it done.
So, Izzo let him know about it.
“You can’t be a freshman this time of year,” Izzo said. “Trust me, Aaron Henry did some things you can’t do as a starter on a top-five team at the end of your freshman year and they were effort-related. So, he’s gonna get challenged.”
Winston has been there. He’s drawn Izzo’s wrath and did during a two-minute stretch of mishaps on Thursday. But he also knows there are times when a teammate needs to help out.
“I understand where he’s coming from and I feel like at that moment I can get the message to him better,” Winston said of his intervening. “I stepped in and said, ‘What do you need me to say? I’ll handle it.’ At that moment, he’s going through a lot, a freshman on a top-whatever team and got all these expectations. There’s no telling what’s going through his head. So, I just felt like at that moment I’d get the message to him better.”
Henry finished with eight points and three rebounds in 29 minutes. But he, more than anyone, knew he could do more.
It’s why Izzo was on his case and it’s why Henry wasn’t wallowing in self-pity, even after a missed dunk in the second half.
“I can’t really explain it,” Henry said. “I just missed it. ‘Man, I can’t do anything right,’ that’s what I was thinking at the time.”
None of it stopped Izzo from keeping Henry in the game and going to the talented freshman in crunch time.
“That’s the growth I’ve taken,” Henry said. “I make a bad play, like I missed that dunk, I don’t pout about it for the next six, seven possessions. I’m coming right back. I’m a good basketball player still. I’m gonna make mistakes, but I’ve got be able to play through.”
The victory was the 49th tournament win for Izzo, moving him into a tie with former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun for fifth overall. Entering the tournament, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski had the most with 94 followed by Roy Williams (Kansas/North Carolina) with 77, North Carolina’s Dean Smith with 65 and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim with 55.
… Michigan State was 25-for-26 from the free-throw line, good for 96.2 percent. It was the best performance of the season from the line. The Spartans shot 95.2-percent (20-for-21) in a win at Iowa.
NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE VS. NO. 10 MINNESOTA
Tip-off: 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
Records: Michigan State 29-6, Minnesota 22-13
Next up: Winner faces No. 3 LSU or No. 6 Maryland in the Sweet 16