Foster Loyer's big game sparks No. 13 Michigan State past Eastern Michigan, 83-67

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Things were different at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night, and only part of that was because of the atmosphere, one significantly altered by opening the college basketball season in the middle of a pandemic.

From the carboard cutouts and banner-sized photos of fans from years past to the spread out seats on the bench and the players donning masks when they checked out of the game, this one certainly had a different feel.

But that’s hardly where the changes ended for Michigan State. Gone are two of the most important players from the last three conference championship teams – guard Cassius Winton and center Xavier Tillman – but that hardly changes the expectations for coach Tom Izzo and his staff.

“The Big Ten you know throughout going into the year, from top to bottom is going to be a dogfight each and every night,” guard Foster Loyer says.

Regardless of who’s on the court, Michigan State expects to contend for championships, and its first chance to prove there will be no drop-off came on Wednesday night when Eastern Michigan came to the Breslin Center to open the season.

Things couldn’t have gone much better as junior guard Foster Loyer scored a career-high 20 points to lead No. 13 Michigan State to an 83-67 victory, as Izzo improved to 26-0 in home openers and 20-6 overall in season openers.

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 83, Eastern Michigan 67

“It’s just nice to be back out there after however many months it's been since we played our last game,” Loyer said. “It was nice to just be back out there with the guys. I thought we did a really good job throughout the game moving the ball. They run kind of a tough matchup zone and our guys did a great job of finding open shooters and I was glad to see a couple go down.”

It was an impressive performance for Loyer, who spent his first two years at Michigan State serving as Winston’s backup, rarely getting enough playing time to ever find himself in a rhythm. But after pushing himself in the off-season, Loyer clearly has taken a significant step.

He made five 3-pointers in the first half and finished 6-for-10 while handing out a pair of assists and turning the ball over only once.

“I think it’s a mindset thing,” Loyer said. “I think that's embracing your role and just doing whatever you can to put yourself in a position to succeed. For me, it was a lot of work this summer just to bear down and get that confidence back shooting the ball.

“Different games are going to be different. Aaron Henry might not have gotten as many looks tonight or things like that. But I think this team does such a great job of just being unselfish that we're gonna make sure the open guy finds the ball and be confident in our teammates.”

Loyer was right, there weren’t many shots for Henry, a player many expect to be on the verge of a big season. However, Henry handed out seven assists and was as steady as anyone on the floor.

“Aaron Henry maybe had as good a game (as anyone),” Izzo said. “He was too unselfish tonight and we got to get in more buckets. We’ve got to get him more shots. But … he led us in assists, he rebounded well, he played good defense. He acted like a true captain.”

Loyer was only one storyline for the Spartans.

Transfer Joey Hauser made his debut after sitting out last season and overcame some turnover issues to score 15 points and grab nine rebounds while Joshua Langford was back on the court for the first time since late December 2018. Langford, who underwent two foot surgeries over the past year-and-a-half, started and scored 10 while Gabe Brown nailed four 3-pointers to finish with 12 points.

Joey Hauser passes under pressure from Drew Lowder as MSU beats Eastern Michigan.

“I’m just grateful to be to be back out there,” Langford said. “It definitely was different just because the last time I played it wasn't like this. And then also I haven't played in almost two years, so it was definitely different getting back out there and a lot of emotions within. But ultimately, I'm just glad we got the win and I got a game under my belt and I can just keep moving forward.

Eastern Michigan was limited to just eight active players as six sat out because of contact tracing after a manager tested positive for COVID-19.

Yeikson Montero scored 16 for the Eagles while Ty Groce added 14 points, Darion Spottsville chipped in 12 and Miles Gibson added 11.

“Just to keep the game within reach with hopes we could come back and steal it in the end,” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said. “Those guys competed. We played them even in the second half. I was really pleased with our play tonight.”

It took the Spartans some time to decipher the Eagles’ 2-3 zone with Loyer hitting his first two 3-pointer to put Michigan State on top, 10-7. That lead grew to 17-10 after a pair of Marcus Bingham buckets and a triple from Langford, his first points since Dec. 29, 2018.

That’s when Eastern Michigan came to life, taking advantage of three Michigan State turnovers to score nine in a row, taking a 19-17 lead a little more than halfway through the opening half.

That proved to be the best stretch of the night as Michigan State responded by scoring the next 13 points, getting a pair of Loyer 3-pointers and one from Brown to push the lead to 30-19. The run reached 21-4 when Langford and Loyer hit back-to-back triples with must more than two minutes to play in the half, extending the Spartans’ advantage to 38-23.

Loyer nailed a pair of free throws and Brown buried another 3-pointer, the ninth of the half for the Spartans, to close the scoring and send MSU to the locker room with a 43-27 lead.

Michigan State cooled off a bit from long range in the second half after making them at a 50-percent clip in the opening 20 minutes. The Spartans finished 12-for-28 after getting a couple late in the game from Brown as the leads was pushed to 20.

The Spartans now prepare to host Notre Dame at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

“There were some serious positives, and there were a few negatives,” Izzo said, noting the 18 turnovers. “But a lot of good things with Foster and a lot of work to do for Saturday night.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau