Mon, 25 Mar 2019

No. 9 Michigan State hopes for fresh start vs. Green Bay

Sports Xchange
16 Dec 2018, 08:49 GMT+10

Fresh legs should give No. 9 Michigan State a little more pep in its step Sunday.

The Spartans will be playing for only the second time since Dec. 3 when they host Green Bay. They haven't been in action since a 63-59 road victory against Florida on Dec. 8.

The coaches hit the recruiting trail for a few days before returning to practice for the first of four home games.

"This is the period of time we've got to get better," coach Tom Izzo said. "We've got to hone in on our offense, we've got to execute better, we can't have the little mental breakdowns we did defensively, you have to handle the press breakers a little better because once we get into the New Year, it will at least be a little more consistent where we're playing a game every three days."

Michigan State (8-2) overcame 15 turnovers and 4-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc against the Gators. The team had gotten a little worn down after facing some big-name opponents, including No. 1 Kansas, UCLA, Texas, Louisville and No. 22 Iowa.

"I've been disappointed with myself because I think the schedule hurt us with these practice times that haven't given our guys a true chance to get better as much as they needed to," Izzo said. "I think that slowed our progress a little bit down and caught us. We had a lot of guys that were playing a little both mentally and physically fatigued."

The Spartans' offense has been humming through most of their first 10 games. They are averaging 84.8 points on 49.2 percent shooting. Guards Joshua Langford (16.7 points per game) and Cassius Winston (16.1), and center Nick Ward (15.6) have led the way.

Reserve big man Xavier Tillman has come on strong over the last four games, averaging 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Izzo is still trying to figure out whether to start Kyle Ahrens or Matt McQuaid at small forward. McQuaid returned against the Gators after missing three games with a thigh injury.

"This week we'll have to make some decisions," Izzo said. "It won't be a quarterback controversy because they'll both probably play similar minutes. Something that McQuaid gives to us is he is probably our glue guy."

The Phoenix (6-5) lost at Creighton on Friday, 86-65. Green Bay shot a season-low 35 percent from the field and trailed virtually the entire game.

Senior guard Sandy Cohen III recorded 20 points and 10 rebounds but the Phoenix couldn't erase a double-digit deficit following a 14-2 Creighton outburst midway through the second half. Cohen has four 20-10 games in his career.

Green Bay will be playing a Big Ten team for the second time this season. It lost to Iowa 93-82 on Nov. 11.

The Phoenix defeated Division III opponent Wisconsin-Stout 112-46 earlier this week.

Coach Linc Darner said prior to the Creighton game that he fears a well-rested Spartans team.

"We are going to go play a Michigan State team that has had eight days to prepare for us. We are going to have 12 hours," he said. "By the time our game is over against Creighton, we go to bed and get up the next day and fly all day. ... I just jokingly said, the way Michigan State can play and how fast they are, it could be layups like (we had against Stout) against us."

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