By JOHN BAUERNFEIND | IDS
Making his homecoming of sorts, Michigan State sophomore guard Gary Harris posted a new career-high in points with 26, leading the Spartans to a comfortable 73-56 victory against the Hoosiers.
Harris, the Fishers, Ind., native and Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, led all players in scoring, going 8-of-18 from the field and 5-of-10 from 3-point range.
The Hoosiers (10-5, 0-2), despite limiting their turnovers to 15, were out-rebounded for the first time all season. Michigan State (13-1, 2-0) held a 34-32 advantage on the glass.
Harris also led all players with five steals, and added four rebounds and two assists to round out his game. Harris punctuated his day in the second half when he stole the ball from sophomore Jonny Marlin and spearheaded down the court, cocking back his right arm and sending in a dunk that extended Michigan State’s lead to 48-34 with 10 minutes 58 seconds remaining in the game.
After his dunk went in, Harris let out a roar amidst the chorus of boos that fell down on him from the fans in Assembly Hall. After his team’s win, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo described Harris as a “special player.”
“I thought Harris was unbelievable,” Izzo said. “He’s a special player, and I promise he’s not even close to where he’s going to be.”
In his postgame press conference, IU Coach Tom Crean was blunt in his description of Harris’s performance.
“Gary was an assassin today.”
For IU, the last time it lost its Big Ten conference home opener was the 2010-11 season. That same season was also the last time the Hoosiers lost its first two conference games.
IU and the Spartans traded points throughout the first half, and with two minutes and 56 seconds remaining, sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell connected on a mid-range jumper to cut Michigan State’s lead to one. From then until four minutes and 42 seconds into the second half, the Spartans went on a 15-1 run before IU Coach Tom Crean called timeout.
Coming out of the timeout the Hoosiers had a 7-0 run of their own, started by freshman guard Stanford Robinson, who made two layups which were followed up by a made 3-pointer from senior wing Will Sheehey.
There, IU narrowed its deficit to 40-32, but it was the closest the Hoosiers would come to reaching the Spartans.
After scoring a career-high 30 points against Illinois on Tuesday, sophomore guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell led the Hoosiers with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. After the game, Ferrell said his team was close but ultimately couldn’t pull off that one scoring run to match the Spartans.
“We didn’t get enough points off their turnovers, I felt like,” Ferrell said. “We made great runs, but we never pushed over that hump.”
Sheehey and Robinson matched Ferrell in double-digit points, scoring 13 and 11, respectively. For the freshman Robinson, it was a career-high in points, and he also added four rebounds and two assists.
Robinson in particular drove into the paint throughout the game, which, Crean said, is what he wants to see more of from his team.
“I want us to attack the rim,” Crean said. “We talk ad nauseam points through the paint. We’ve got great kids. We’ve just got to have a basketball IQ, a basketball maturity right now. That’s where the understanding is not there yet.”
Michigan State similarly had three players score in double-digits, those being Harris, senior guard Keith Appling and junior forward Branden Dawson. The Spartans’ second leading scorer, senior forward Adreian Payne, was limited to four points on 2-of-6 shooting.
Crean said his team is struggling with multiple things which are holding it back from winning games.
“We struggle right now with understanding momentum, we struggle with time and score,” Crean said. “Some of its immaturity, some of its youth, some of its just not understanding that the ball needs to go through the paint. We played hard, they played smart.”