EAST LANSING, Mich. — Kenny Kaminski kept Michigan State afloat Saturday afternoon by draining 3-pointers as if the game with Minnesota was nothing more than a pre-game shoot-around.
He made his first five shots, coming off the bench to score 12 of the Spartans’ first 34 points.
Although the Golden Gophers put a scare into the No. 5 Spartans with their top big man, Adreian Payne, on the bench with a foot injury, Kaminski allowed for a comeback and an 87-75 overtime victory at the Breslin Center.
Kaminski, a 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman from Medina, Ohio, came alive with nine points against Ohio State in the previous game, and has made 63 percent of 24 3-pointers taken.
Kaminski, who still needs to work on defense and his all-around game, is giving head coach Tom Izzo something he needs right now.
"He gave us a lift," said Izzo.
Izzo wanted to make that much clear, but he also wanted to drive home the point that Kaminski has much to prove.
Kenny Kaminski, who still needs to work on defense and his all-around game, is giving Michigan State what it needs right now — a shooter.
"Kaminski made some shots, you know," Izzo said. "And he gives up some shots, you know.
"If he continues to improve and we try to get a rebound once in a while and guard someone once in a while, he can shoot it with anybody."
Kaminski gave up a layup in between his first two 3-pointers, and will be substituted out of games when defense is required until he improves that facet of his game.
Izzo already has suspended Kaminski twice this season for not fulfilling team obligations and expectations. No details were released, but this much is for sure: Kaminski is a long shooter on a short leash.
"I know I’m in a spot that will make or break me," said Kaminski, who is averaging 8.3 points in his last four games. "If I don’t make it, I know there’s a chance of not playing at all coming off suspensions."
The Spartans are a much deeper team with Kaminski, and how he handles the weeks ahead is critical to developing roles on the team. He’s a zone-buster who makes MSU much harder to defend.
It’s difficult to check Kaminski along the arc, and doing so requires opponents to take their power forward away from the bucket unless switches are made.
"He did a lot," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "He changed the way we guarded certain things and made some big-time shots.
"When you get a kid like that — with that height, to be able to shoot the ball — it’s hard to guard. We had to switch a lot."
Kaminski’s 15 points were eclipsed by Keith Appling’s 24 points (15-of-16 on free throws) and Gary Harris’ 19.
But Kaminski ended up scoring more than starting center Matt Costello and starting forward Branden Dawson combined — although Dawson said afterward that he was feeling "sluggish" with "body aches," and Izzo noted that Dawson’s illness needs to be diagnosed.
Kaminski came in for Dawson just two minutes into the game and quickly nailed three bombs in a span of 92 seconds. He can fill it up in a hurry.
Every classic shooter has a gym or a court where he took shots until his fingers bled. Kaminski said that place for him was the Medina High School gymnasium.
"My dad coached me up until high school," Kaminski said, "and my dad knew the janitors there pretty well. We could get in any time we wanted."
They did so nearly every day, father rebounding for son.
"We did it for hours — just hours," Kaminski said. "Shooting is all technique."
For all his game flaws, Kaminski squares up to shoot and times his release like a pro. I asked him whom he grew up loving to watch shoot the basketball.
Kaminski leaned back in the folding chair at his locker, smiled and said, "Dirk Nowitzki. He has perfect form and is a big guy.
"My dad always made sure I had great form, and I watched him and Kevin Love, who is a model for me."
All of Kaminski’s shots came from the top of the key or the right side of the court. Defenses likely will try to force him to his left, but he’s not worried.
"Gary (Harris) likes that left wing," said Kaminski, who leaves that side to the high-scoring guard. "But I can shoot from anywhere."
He credited point guard Appling and his teammates for passing and rebounding to set him up.
The torn labrum in his right shoulder, which limited him to playing only in the state tournament as a senior and sitting out last year at MSU, is healed. Now his challenges are abiding by team rules and hunkering down on defense.