East Lansing — There weren’t many milestones Foster Loyer failed to meet as a prep star at Clarkston.
A two-time state champion, Loyer was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball as a senior in 2018 and finished his career No. 12 on the state’s all-time scoring list with 2,222 points. He also handed out 575 career assists and is seventh in Michigan high school history with 258 3-pointers.
Needless to say, expectations were high when Loyer arrived on Michigan State’s campus last fall. However, when you’re playing behind the Big Ten Player of the Year, minutes are hard to come by. And when you’re 6-foot tall on a good day and closer to 150 pounds than 200, the jump from high school to college can be a significant one.
Not surprisingly, Loyer’s transition to the next level has been a difficult one as he averaged just 5.8 minutes a game last year, forcing Cassius Winston to log heavy minutes in the second half of the season. Things haven’t changed much this season, but over the last three games, there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel.
Loyer scored a season-high 13 points in No. 14 Michigan State’s victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday, logging 16 minutes while going 3-for-4 from 3-point range. It was the third straight game Loyer has scored at least seven points, something he did three times all of last season. It was also his best shooting performance since he was 4-for-5 from 3-point range, scoring a career-high 14 in a win over Ohio State in last season’s Big Ten tournament.
Michigan State's Aaron Henry, Foster Loyer and Cassius Winston talk about the victory over Eastern Michigan. The Detroit News
“Just going out there and playing the way I can, looking to score the ball, looking to create offensively,” Loyer said after the Eastern Michigan victory. “I thought going out there and playing with Cash, trying to get him a couple shots. Just the spacing we had on the floor tonight I thought was real good.”
Not only did the spacing help Winston and the offense as a whole, it had Loyer in a comfort zone. He hit his first two 3-pointers late in the first half and later added another in the second half.
“I know the player that I can be,” Loyer said. “I’ve just got to go out there each night and be that guy and give our team that confidence and give the coaching staff that confidence so that I have it in myself.”
That confidence has seemed to come and go, and it’s rarely been because of Loyer’s offense. The biggest issue standing between Loyer and more consistent minutes has been on the defensive end. It’s something that is a constant through the years under Tom Izzo: If a player can’t defend, playing time will be scarce.
However, getting the playing time to work through some mistakes is also important, and Izzo admits he needs to do a better job of letting Loyer get into more of the flow of the game.
“Two things have to happen,” Izzo said. “He has to learn to play a little more physical, a little more defense. In high school he didn't have to guard anybody He's got to guard somebody here, because the guys that are guarding him are 6-3 and athletic.
“And he's had to learn how to deal with the speed of the game and then I have to learn something. He's got to get enough time that his mistakes, he plays through them and makes a shot or two, which happened tonight. It's not all on him; it's on me, too.”
Izzo has battled that, as well. In the win over Northwestern, Loyer checked in and the Wildcats ripped off a 10-0 run, forcing Loyer back to the bench until the final minutes when Loyer was back in for his free-throw shooting.
On Saturday, Loyer was afforded the time to get in a groove.
“When you walk in and you have an open shot but it's your first time touching the ball, that's not a thing that's easy,” Loyer said. “Running up and down, getting a feel, finding the spaces, finding the spots where you can get a shot or get your teammate a shot is something you've got to see and see before it happens.”
Loyer likely will get more extended minutes with Michigan State (9-3, 2-0 Big Ten) faces Western Michigan (7-5) on Sunday, and from there, some of it depends on the status of freshman Rocket Watts, who has missed four games with a leg injury.
If the last few games are a sign of Loyer’s emergence, it will be an important development for the Spartans. Izzo said this next stretch will be important for Loyer, and the former high school start is looking forward to it.
“I just gotta keep working,” Loyer said. “Just go out there and play the way I can. I’ve got to go out there and be a threat offensively, and I’ve got to keep working as hard as I can at getting stops on the defense end. So I think day-in and day-out, showing that every day at practice is going to help me get on the court.”