MSU basketball tested early, pulls away to beat Eastern Michigan, 83-59

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

East Lansing – Next stop, Nassau.

The Michigan State basketball team had its final tune-up prior to Wednesday’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament opener with Loyola Chicago here Saturday evening with Eastern Michigan.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, center, talks to the team during a timeout in the second half of Saturday's college basketball game against Eastern Michigan in East Lansing.

The Spartans (3-1) were tested in the beginning, but then roared away for an 83-59 victory over the Eagles (1-3) at Breslin Center.

“Don’t get enamored by the score,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m not really happy with the win. It’s about getting better every game.”

Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr., center, and Eastern Michigan's Derek Ballard, right, and Colin Golson vie for a rebound during the first half of Saturday's college basketball game in East Lansing.

Izzo did not see that being the case despite some strong efforts. Consistency was lacking, according to the coach.

Lanky 7-foot forward Marcus Bingham, Jr. (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way for MSU, and gritty junior forward Malik Hall (15 points, nine rebounds) contributed plenty. Max Christie, a smooth-shooting freshman guard from Rolling Meadows (Ill.) High, scored 13 points, and forward Gabe Brown chipped in 10.

“Marcus did some great things,” Izzo said. “But I’m always pushing Marcus. He has so much to give. He played pretty damned good until a couple stretches, and it’s the consistency you need from him.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 83, Eastern Michigan 59

Bingham, a senior from Grand Rapids Catholic Central, smiled when his coach’s constant pushing was mentioned.

“I keep his voice in the back of my head,” said Bingham, while also crediting the rest of the coaching staff and teammates for their prodding. “Everybody wants the best out of me, and that’s what I want out of myself.”

The Eagles were led by guards Noah Farrakhan (14 points) and Monty Scott (10 points) and forward Colin Golson, Jr., a freshman from Ferndale High, who scored 11 off the bench. Farrakhan (East Carolina) and Scott (Portland State) are step-brothers from New Jersey who both transferred to EMU this season.

Michigan State's A.J. Hoggard reacts after an injury during the second half of Saturday's college basketball game against Eastern Michigan in East Lansing.

Golson sparked the Eagles early, but then didn’t score in the second half, when he took and missed his only two shots.

“Golson was great,” Izzo said. “I loved him.”

Bingham said he had a message in the huddle for Hall, who was guarding Golson: “Don’t let him score on you no more.”

Golson, a lefty shooter who used the glass on angle shots, had been 5-of-7 before intermission. However, the Siena College transfer with freshman eligibility had trouble even getting shots after that.

MORE: MSU freshman Max Christie plays like veteran, earns respect

“I think Malik took it personal,” Bingham said of the challenge put to him.

EMU had a 15-11 lead before the Spartans pulled away with a 9-0 run and never looked back. The Spartans had too much both inside and outside for a team picked to finish 11th in the Mid-American Conference. However, Indiana recently struggled to beat the Eagles, 68-62.

“Everybody needed to pick up the energy,” said Hall, who added that his team’s major problem on defense was helping one another on switches and leaving their gap responsibilities. “I just started out flat.”

Izzo noted: “After a rough start, Malik played his best game…Malik is one of the better players on my team.”

Michigan State's Malik Hall (25) goes up for a layup against Eastern Michigan's Colin Golson during the second half of Saturday's college basketball game in East Lansing.

Though, as he does with Bingham, Izzo noted that he’s pushing Hall hard to become all he can be.

MSU had 41 rebounds – two fewer than EMU produced – but had a 12-6 advantage in blocked shots and a 12-4 edge in steals to assert its dominance.

“Marcus is a shot-blocking machine,” Izzo said.

Bingham added: “I go into every game thinking I can do a good job of blocking shots with my length. Timing is a big thing for me.”

He noted that film study aids his ability to anticipate when blocks will be ripe for the making.

Eagles coach Stan Heath, an assistant to Izzo on the 2000 national championship team, is in his first year at the Ypsilanti school after coaching at Kent State, Arkansas and South Florida.

“Let me assure you the pupil out-coached the teacher,” said Izzo. “They out-rebounded us at home…That is a win against a team I think is going to win a lot of games.”

MSU led, 49-31, at the half and pushed that to a 27-point bulge early in the second half, taking a 64-37 lead.

Christie scored eight points after intermission, and has been particularly pleasing to his coach.

“Max has been solid, boy,” Izzo said. “We’ve got to get him some more shots (after going 5-for-12). I’m pleased with Max. He does his job.”

Christie said “the biggest thing that’s helping” is the “confidence” Izzo and the rest of the Spartans show in him.

Eastern Michigan coach Stan Heath signals during the second half of Saturday's college basketball game against Michigan State in East Lansing.

MSU begins play Wednesday in a top pre-season tournament in the Bahamas. Izzo said forward Joey Hauser (calf) was held out of the EMU contest but could’ve played had the game dictated it. He should be ready in Nassau.

MSU’s players are looking forward to everything about the trip.

“The Bahamas is going to be fun for sure and a big test,” Christie said. “We are playing some really good teams there. Although it is a nice spot, we’re going there to win games.”

Bingham added, “I can’t wait to get to the warm weather. My family’s coming, too.”

Hall said, “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to some good weather and it’s going to be good competition.”

Steve Kornacki is a freelance reporter.