Michigan State's Jack Hoiberg, Gabe Brown, Kyle Ahrens and Cassius Winston talk about the Spartans' victory over Nebraska. The Detroit News
Lincoln, Neb. – When Fred Hoiberg was handed a list of Michigan State’s starters just before tip-off on Thursday night, one number caused him to pause.
“One of the coaches always brings in the numbers of the starters,” Hoiberg said, “and I see 5, 11, 25, and 10. And I’m like, ‘Ten? Who the hell? That’s Jack.’”
That was the moment the Nebraska coach found out his son was starting on Thursday night for Michigan State. Instead of coming off the bench late when the outcome has been decided, Jack Hoiberg found himself out on the floor for the opening tip.
It was the first time the sophomore walk-on started a game for the Spartans, highlighting a special night for the Hoiberg family as Michigan State cruised to an 86-65 victory.
“Yeah, that was really cool by (Michigan State coach Tom) Izzo to give him that opportunity to come out here,” Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously, he had a ton of family in here tonight. We had a post-up call for Jervay (Green) on the first play, and I envisioned having Jack guarding Jervay, like I was going to go right at my kid. “
"I’m proud of him. He did a phenomenal job. That step-back at the end of the game, he’s kind of mastered that shot.”
It turned out to be a heck of a night for the younger Hoiberg. He played the first 2:06 and got in the box score quickly, missing an open 3-pointer but grabbing the rebound and dishing to Cassius Winston for an assist on Winston’s 3-pointer.
Later in the game, with Michigan State rolling, Jack Hoiberg was back in the game and hit a couple of shots to finish with four points.
“It was fun,” Jack Hoiberg said at the podium while sitting next to his dad. “I’m sure it wasn’t as fun for him.”
At that moment, Fred interjected, “Yeah, it was a real blast.”
The starting assignment didn’t only take Fred Hoiberg by surprise. Jack said it was just before the game on Thursday when he was summoned by Izzo into the coach’s office. That’s when Hoiberg found out he’d be starting.
“It was weird,” Jack Hoiberg admitted. “I'll say that it was weird looking down a few times when I got back on the bench and I saw my dad on the other sideline because my whole life when he's been coaching I've been rooting for his teams. Tonight I wasn’t rooting for him. I was playing against him. It was different. It was weird, but it was also cool to be able to talk to him after the game.”
There was no pregame handshake for father and son — “Enemies until the buzzer sounds,” Jack said — and it was no easy decision for Izzo. But by the time he arrived at the arena, he knew what the right call was.
“I talked about it with my staff two days ago, and I talked myself out of it because you don’t want to interrupt — we’re not playing the greatest right now,” Izzo said. “But as I was riding here, believe it or not, I said to myself, as a coach, in this day and with all the social media, a coach can never do what he wants to do. He’s always got to do things for everybody else. So I told my staff I’m going to start Jack because it’s the right thing to do.
“This kid has given me almost three years, every single day. For Jack, the kid’s a pretty good player. I’m so proud of that kid and what he’s done, the kind of student, the kind of person and the kind of player. Every day he brings it. It wasn’t just do it for Fred, it was do it for Jack because it’s the right thing to do. Even if we had lost it would have been the right thing to do.”
Michigan State turned the ball over a season-high 22 times as Cassius Winston gave the ball up five times and Rocket Watts lost it four.
“You would think with more guards in there, you wouldn't turn it over as much,” Izzo said of using a smaller lineup. “But most of the turnovers came from a couple of guys that shouldn't be turning over. Rocket and Cassius have nine turnovers between them. That's not good.”
Michigan State’s previous high in turnovers was 18 in a loss at Purdue.
… Michigan State’s 13 3-pointers (13-for-27) were the second-most it has had in a game this season. The Spartans went 15-for-30 in a victory over Eastern Michigan in December.
… Gabe Brown scored a career-high 17 points and made five 3-pointers, also a career high. Kyle Ahrens scored 14, coming one point shy of matching his career high.