Spartans set to tackle Western Michigan after 'no basketball' break

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – By the time Michigan State had put the finishing touches on a blowout win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday, the Spartans were a team ready to get away.

They were about to have the next four days off, completely away from the game, away from the locker room, away from the daily grind.

“I think they need to get home and get away from it a little bit and get with some family,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Tom Izzo

It’s been a long couple of months for the Spartans as they’ve played a typically difficult schedule, officially lost Joshua Langford for the season and have missed freshman guard Rocket Watts for the last four games. On top of all that has been the fact Cassius Winston has been coping with the death of his brother, Zachary.

So it’s clear, a little time away was important as No. 14 Michigan State (9-3, 2-0 Big Ten) prepares to get back on the court when it hosts Western Michigan at 8 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s definitely important, especially with all we've been through as a team,” Winston said of the four-day reprieve he and the Spartans received. “It's that mental break that's probably even more important for us than the physical. There is a lot that we've gone through, so to just get a break and see family and regroup (is good).”

Before they hit the break, the Spartans put together one of their most complete games of the season, beating Eastern Michigan, 101-48.

“It was the first time I felt like we put everything together,” Izzo said. “The practices were important. We've got understand that we practice how we play, and I think the practices we're really important.”

The practices led to one of Michigan State’s best shooting performances. After struggling from 3-point range most of the season, the Spartans made 15-of-30 against Eastern Michigan. That came after going 9-for-21 a few days earlier against Northwestern.

Izzo, however, reminded his team to take advantage of the break and not spend all of their time in a gym.

“I told all of them no basketball,” Izzo said. “Just get away for a while and then we come back and we start grinding.”

Western Michigan (7-5), meanwhile, hasn’t played the level of schedule the Spartans have, but it’s had its own treacherous start to the season. The Broncos have played four true road games and played two games in Orlando as part of the NIT Season Tip-off.

With their last game a win over Division II Aquinas on Dec. 18, the Broncos have had more of a break to prepare for their first meeting against Michigan State since 1998.

“(The break) comes at the perfect time,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said.

Now, though, the Broncos get to turn their attention to the high-profile program in the state.

“It’s the first time playing Michigan State since I’ve been here,” Hawkins said. “Obviously we know all about them. They were the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and they play a brutal schedule. Coach Izzo challenges his guys all time, every year.

“Cassius Winston is one of the best players in country but they have some players. It’s not every day we go up against McDonald’s All-Americans. It will be a huge challenge for us but something our guys love to do. … It’ll be a good game for us, a great game coming back from the break.”

Western Michigan at No. 14 Michigan State

Tip-off: 8 p.m. Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760

Records: Western Michigan 7-5; Michigan State 9-3

Outlook: This is the first time the programs have played since 1998, a 90-66 Michigan State victory. … Junior guard Michael Flowers leads Western Michigan, averaging 17.5 points a game, while junior Brandon Johnson is scoring 15.5 points and grabbing nine rebounds a game. … Former Spartan and Michigan State graduate manager Thomas Kelley is a Western Michigan assistant coach.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau