Izzo rallies troops in regular-season finale
MAR 10, 2013 8:47p ET
Izzo has won seven Big Ten championships and one national championship at Michigan State. But a chance to win a share of an eighth conference crown slipped away Sunday when arch-rival Michigan lost in the final seconds to Indiana, which finished alone in first place.
The coach had tried to downplay rooting for the Wolverines for the help his team needed to share the Big Ten title. But while addressing the fans at Breslin Center after beating Northwestern 71-61 on Sunday, he admitted that Michigan’s loss, which became common knowledge during the first half of the Spartans’ game, “had a little effect” on senior center Derrick Nix and others.
Izzo confided that once Nix learned of the outcome, he sat next to Izzo on the bench and said, “Help me.”
After building slowly in his speech to the fans, Izzo went off.
“I don’t want anything from anyone else in this state!” he shouted. “We have a chance to do our own thing. We own and get what we deserve and you should be prouder of this team than almost any team I’ve had because I’ve went through a lot with this team. I don’t want to go through the back door. I’m a 'bust 'em through the front door' kind of guy.
“And you are too!”
The front door Izzo has his eyes on is at the United Center in Chicago, where the Big Ten Tournament begins for his team on Friday. The Spartans earned a first-round bye by finishing tied for second with Ohio State, and will play the winner of a Thursday game between Iowa and Northwestern in a quarterfinal game beginning about 9 p.m.
“Be in Chicago!” Izzo shouted in completing his message for the fans that began with a “Senior Night” tribute to Nix and became something of a tent revival plea from a minister. But instead of seeking to save souls, it was Izzo’s way of saying the season was not lost by failing to win the conference championship.
“I felt the team and the fan base were down about it,” Izzo later told former MSU coach Gus Ganakas on their WJR-AM postgame interview.
The Spartans, ranked No. 10 in the nation, finished 24-7 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten. Izzo told the crowd that he was “proud” of this team because it never let down or fell victim to an upset.
“We scratched and clawed for everything we got,” Izzo said. “Thirty-one times, your team showed up and next weekend, we’re showing up! I guarantee you that. We’re showing up!”
If MSU wins its quarterfinal game, it will face either Ohio State or the winner of the Purdue- Nebraska game, which faces the Buckeyes in another quarterfinal.
Tim Doyle, the former Northwestern player who served as analyst for Sunday’s game on the Big Ten Network, said any one of five teams could win the conference tourney. However, winning the NCAA championship is another matter in his eyes.
“The Big Ten hasn’t cut down the nets since Michigan State in 2000,” Doyle said, “and there are only two teams that can do that this year: Indiana and the Spartans. Michigan State plays physical. It plays fast and it plays slow.
“ Keith Appling is the X-factor. When Appling plays at his best, Michigan State is at its best.”
That is where Doyle is spot-on.
Appling scored 18 points total in consecutive losses to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan. The Big Ten title was lost in those three games down the stretch, and not when the Wolverines lost on Sunday. However, Appling scored 19 on Thursday, when MSU beat the Badgers at Breslin, and had a team-high 16 in Sunday’s win.
For my money, power forward-center Adreian Payne has been the MVP. He came up tough in those losses, but neither he nor Nix nor freshman guard Gary Harris is the player the sun rises and sets on in this program. It’s definitely Appling.
All it took to beat Northwestern was waking up in time, and Nix had plenty to do with that. He scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and had a team-high six assists.
Nix came out with one minute remaining, and bent down and kissed the court before walking toward Izzo. They clasped hands and hugged briefly. Nix walked away and Izzo slapped him on the butt. The coach fought the battle with tears and lost.
“Derrick has given so much to the program,” Izzo said of his senior tri-captain, who lost weight, gained strength and ability, overcame off-the-court problems with the law and will graduate in May.
When Nix took the mic, he said, “Let’s not fool ourselves…This program has given me much more than I have given it.”
It’s all about earning what you get and respect, and that was Izzo’s point on Sunday.
“Maybe a banner won’t be hanging this year,” Izzo told the fans. “But memories will.”
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