Weary Spartans get a break, gear up for loaded field in Maui
East Lansing — As Michigan State was busy dispatching Charleston Southern on Monday night at Breslin Center, Tom Izzo was sure of one thing.
The Spartans looked tired.
The schedule has been typical for Michigan State with two of the first four games coming against ranked opponents, including one on the road. Add in the fact the team has been dealing with the emotional stress of the death of Zachary Winston, the brother of star guard Cassius Winston, and it’s not a surprise that Izzo had backed off the intense practices over the previous week-plus.
The result, however, was that for most of the game on Monday, the Spartans looked winded.
Izzo vowed that night things were about to ramp up, saying it was time for a couple of days of boot camp as No. 3 Michigan State had most of the week off before taking off Friday for the Maui Invitational, which tips off Monday with a game against Virginia Tech (5-0). It appears that’s exactly what happened.
“We got after it,” sophomore forward Thomas Kithier said. “But I think we had a lot of energy yesterday and we finished strong, which is really good.”
By the time the Spartans boarded the plane Friday morning for the long journey to Hawaii, Izzo believed his team had taken advantage of the practice time.
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“I said after a game on Monday that we needed to have a couple of really good days of practice, just because of all we've gone through,” Izzo said. “And we had, I thought, a very good day of practice (Wednesday) where we made some real progress.”
One player looking to make the most progress was sophomore Aaron Henry. After rolling both of his ankles during one play in the victory over Seton Hall, Henry sat out Monday’s game in order to get a couple of extra days off.
Now, though, the ankle is good to go and Izzo vowed to push Henry the most this week.
“Absolutely,” Henry said when asked if his coach had followed through. “Picked right up where we left off. He put an emphasis back on practicing hard and just transitioned that to each drill and made sure there was absolutely no walking on the court. That's not acceptable, and we did a good job with the emphasis on that.”
The Spartans (3-1) are expecting big things this season from Henry. After surging last season in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, the 6-foot-6 wing was primed for a big season.
However, things have come slowly for Henry, who was bothered by foul trouble in the season-opening loss to Kentucky and finished with nine points. He scored 16 against Binghamton before being limited by the injury against Seton Hall and scored nine points with just one rebound in 24 minutes.
The time off surely helped Henry, but Izzo is hoping it also showed the budding star how to fight through some physical limitations.
“Aaron, I think, will be 100 percent by Monday,” said Izzo, “and I think he’s learning as he goes the difference between playing hurt and playing injured, and you’ve got to figure that out. I think he took some steps in that direction. He showed no ill effects from it (during practice) and that's what we thought, but everybody deals with those kinds of things differently.
“I think that'll help him grow in the future to see you know, what he had to do and I also think giving him those couple extra days off probably helped him too.”
Henry said he’s feeling good and believes the trip to Maui will be the perfect time for his game to take off.
“I feel like I've been playing well,” Henry said. “My minutes haven't been crazy and I’ve been in foul trouble most of the time. I feel like it's been like four games and one I didn't play, but feel like with the minutes I’ve gotten I’ve played decent. I just can't wait to get like the actual minutes that I feel like I'm going to get, like 34, 35 (minutes) maybe, just to get in the complete rhythm and flow of the game. Just can’t wait for that.”