North Florida-Michigan St. Preview
Michigan State's depth has taken a hit, and the health of sophomore standout Gary Harris is becoming a major concern for coach Tom Izzo.
The fifth-ranked Spartans hope to have Harris back in the lineup when they host North Florida on Tuesday night.
Michigan State (8-1) had nine days off following a disappointing 79-65 home loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4 that Izzo called one of the toughest of his career. The Spartans showed some signs of rust before surviving to beat Oakland 67-63 on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Harris, averaging a team-best 17.6 points, sat out with a nagging ankle injury that also is threatening to sideline him for this contest. The preseason Big Ten player of the year also missed a win over Mount St. Mary's on Nov. 29.
Matt Costello, who has started six games, likely won't play again while battling mononucleosis. Plus, Izzo has suspended reserve Kenny Kaminski indefinitely for academic reasons.
"It has been a miserable 10 days," Izzo said Saturday. "You lose and you want to go to war, but you can't go to war without bodies. We hope to get Gary back this week. Costello, I have no idea about that. But we're missing Gary. He's the best two-way player we've got."
The Spartans added another lackluster performance to their list and shot 42.1 percent after hitting just 35.9 against the Tar Heels. Point guard Keith Appling scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, and fellow senior Adreian Payne had 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"We just have to come out more ready to play," Appling said. "It's as simple as that. I knew in the second half I had to be more aggressive, not only looking for my shot but getting to the paint, making the defense collapse and finding my teammates on kickouts."
Izzo was most impressed with junior Branden Dawson, who had 16 points and a career high-tying 13 boards. Dawson was challenged by his coach after scoring two points and attempting two shots in 17 minutes versus North Carolina.
"There was a different mindset and definitely a different approach," Dawson said. "I'd just had one of the worst games since I've been here against North Carolina. So the guys all pushed me, and coach talked to me."
Dawson seeks another strong performance in the Spartans' first meeting with North Florida (5-6), which is coming off a nine-day layoff.
The Ospreys of the Atlantic Sun Conference lost 89-68 at Indiana on Dec. 7 to fall to 0-6 all-time against Big Ten teams. Freshman point guard Dallas Moore scored a season-best 27 points, while Travis Wallace grabbed 11 rebounds.
"We continue to grow as a team," coach Matthew Driscoll said. "I thought our guys again showed a tremendous amount of resiliency (in the last game). I was proud of our effort and our competitiveness. We challenged the guys to really attack the glass hard and I thought we did that, especially on the offensive end."
Michigan State will be the third top-10 foe for North Florida, which fell to then-No. 10 Florida 77-69 on Nov. 8 and then-No. 7 Ohio State 99-64 on Nov. 29.
The Spartans had won 35 straight home games against unranked opponents before the loss to North Carolina, which has since risen to No. 14 in the AP poll.