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Freshmen aren’t only Spartans seeking consistent play

Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State has proven it can play with the best teams in the country, even if it has yet to win a game against some of the tougher teams on its schedule.

The Spartans need more consistency from senior Eron Harris.

But there were good stretches in almost every loss, especially during a last-second defeat to Arizona in the season-opener and last week at Duke.

The key for the Spartans (5-4) as they prepare to host Youngstown State at 7 Tuesday at the Breslin Center is playing a complete 40 minutes and getting a more consistent performance from game to game.

“Consistency is the word I talk about a lot,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I put it on the board a lot and I talk about it in pregame speeches a lot. That is what we are looking for.”

Admittedly, it’s tougher to get that from freshmen, and Michigan State’s group has seen its share of ups and downs. Before his ankle injury, Miles Bridges had nights he was dominant and others where he was frustrated by not being able to score.

The same sort of highs and lows have been an issue for guards Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford as well as forward Nick Ward. But the Spartans are also not getting steady performances from the likes of senior Eron Harris and sophomore Matt McQuaid, and it’s those two guards that Michigan State is counting on to provide plenty of points.

“It is hard to get consistency out of a young team and it’s harder to get consistency out of an older inexperienced team,” Izzo said. “It’s harder to get consistency when some of our seniors are trying to find themselves. Our upper-classmen leadership isn’t where it needs to be. 

“We are just going to keep grinding on that and making progress. Consistency is something that younger guys struggle with a little bit easier than older guys. We are making some, we are just not as consistent as we want to be.”

Harris has been at the center of the problem for the Spartans. He scored only nine points in the first two games before scoring 19 against Mississippi Valley State and following that with 31 in the win over Florida Gulf Coast. But two games later he scored just three in a loss to Baylor and was just 5-for-11 for 12 points in the win over Oral Roberts.

MSU misses Miles Bridges but takes big-picture approach

His performance has been a clear indicator of Michigan State’s success as the Spartans are 5-1 when Harris scores in double-figures and 0-3 when he scores fewer than 10.

It’s something that will need to change of Michigan State remains unscathed with Bridges out of the lineup, but will be even more critical in Big Ten play.

“It’s very disappointing,” Izzo said. “I’ll say this, when he’s on and when he’s playing well he’s a guy that can be a scorer and play both ends of the court. There aren’t a ton of those around. Gary Harris was very good at that. Sometimes he puts a little more pressure on himself thinking with Miles out now he needs to score his points and Miles’ points and he’s not making the right decisions. He’s not looking to shoot, he’s looking to put it on the floor and he’s open when he’s coming off those screens.

“That would be a big part of our team. Consistency would be the ultimate goal for him and for Miles, too. Can they be consistently good at what they need to do each day?”

Youngstown State at Michigan State

Tip-off: Tuesday, 7 p.m., Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: ESPNU/WJR 760

Records: Youngstown State 5-4; Michigan State 5-4

Outlook: Youngstown State has won five of its last six and has three players on its roster from the state of Michigan. … Sophomore Cameron Morse of Flint Carman-Ainsworth is averaging 23.7 points a game for the Penguins and ranks fifth in the nation in points per game.