Michigan State finds footing back on U.S. soil
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA — On one possession, Gary Harris looked fearless as he drove to the basket, scored and drew a foul on the play.
Then the next, he turned the ball over.
And that’s when you remember he’s just a freshman, and this is just his second college game.
But just like the Michigan State basketball team on the whole, Harris rebounded well from the season-opening loss to Connecticut in Germany. By halftime of Tuesday’s Champions Classic game against No. 7 Kansas at the Georgia Dome, Harris had already totaled his scoring output from the UConn game — 11 points.
He finished with 18 points — including a few critical late-game baskets — and junior point guard Keith Appling added 19 as Michigan State won 67-64 in a thriller.
“I don’t think we were great tonight,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said on the court after the game, “but I think we played with a lot more passion and a lot harder.”
The outcome of the game was less important than the fact that the Spartans looked more like the Spartans you thought they’d be entering the season. The game served as a a good reminder why they are such a dangerous team. Coached by Tom Izzo, they nearly always improve drastically throughout the season.
Even in just four days.
Last season, Michigan State started the year unranked and 0-2 after losses to North Carolina and Duke. Then the Spartans reeled off 15 consecutive wins. They earned a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, won the Big Ten tournament and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
So four days after a shocking loss to UConn, it was no surprise that Michigan State improved. The Spartans attacked the basket, drew fouls and maintained an intensity missing in their season opener.
Harris was a big part of that. He hit some of the game’s biggest shots — including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 49 with just over eight minutes left in Tuesday’s game. His 35 minutes played were second only to Appling on the Michigan State roster.
“He made some big plays tonight, and we played … [For more on Michigan State finds footing back on U.S. soil, click here.]