EAST LANSING, Mich. — The “Masked Man” is becoming a bigger part of the Michigan State basketball team’s playing rotation.
Travis Trice, who has worn a Rip Hamilton-like protective mask since returning from a broken nose and concussion suffered in the opener with Connecticut, has become more than point guard Keith Appling’s substitute.
Trice (6-foot, 167 pounds) has recently received more playing time in tandem with Appling (6-1, 190), prompting Spartans coach Tom Izzo to say after Saturday’s win over Purdue, “I am being a little more comfortable playing small.”
MSU had what amounted to two point guards on the court for 13 minutes against the Boilermakers. Trice, a sophomore from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne, matched his season-high with 12 points and added four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Leading scorer Appling, a junior from Detroit Pershing, had his second-lowest point total of the season with six, but had a season-high eight assists.
“I thought Travis Trice did an unbelievable job,” Izzo said. “As crazy as it sounds, being 2-of-6 (from the field), Keith Appling ran our team pretty good. He had eight assists; he had one turnover. He was getting pressure and he made proper decisions.”
I asked Trice about the advantages of two point guards being on the court together.
“The break starts faster with both of us in there,” Trice said. “The bigs can look to either wing for the outlet pass. And you’ve got two guys dribbling and penetrating; it opens up more of everything. We like playing with each other.”
Trice is averaging 6.5 points, 2.1 assists and 1.6 rebounds for the season, but is averaging 10.5 points after two Big Ten games.
He has the game in his blood as a third-generation major college basketball player. His father and high school coach, Travis, played two years apiece at both Butler and Purdue. His grandfather, Bob Pritchett, is a member of the Old Dominion Hall of Fame.
Trice is a scrapper and a dead-eye from beyond the three-point line.
While leading the team with 47-percent accuracy on treys and ranking second at 83 percent on free throws, Trice is a shocking 2-for-20 on shots inside the three-point arc. He’s comfortable with a good look from outside, but is working on successfully creating his own shot closer to the hoop.
“I’m thinking every shot is going in,” Trice said. “And if it’s not, I get mad. The only time I’m not making shots is when I’m not getting my legs into shots. The guys are getting me open shots, and I’ve got to hit them.
Trice averaged 23.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 steals to garner Gatorade Ohio Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors as a senior, and played with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller at Wayne High.
“But I don’t really care about scoring,” Trice said. “I take pride in taking the other guy away on defense.”
Purdue’s top three guards were 9-for-29 (.310) on Saturday, with Trice and Appling teaming with Gary Harris to put the clamps on Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson and Anthony Johnson. Terone and Ronnie, from Indianapolis, are brothers.
Izzo puts a premium on defense, and Trice said his coach went into a rant “with words I can’t repeat” while throwing a videotape remote during halftime of the Purdue game.
“It was about defensive rotations,” Trice said.
After averaging 17.6 minutes in the first seven games he played, Trice has averaged 23 in the last three. Minutes are the carrot coaches dangle in front of players, and you get more when you produce.
Trice didn’t play for nearly three weeks after suffering the concussion and broken nose in the season-opener in Germany. He lost “10 to 12 pounds” and is finding it hard to put the weight back on with the rigors of the season. His goal is 175 pounds.
“I feel good, though,” Trice said.
And the hard plastic mask, which he can’t wait to remove after games, is keeping him protected from further damage.
“At first,” said Trice, “I did not like it. But now I’m getting used to it. At first, I thought, ‘Is it going to hurt?’ Now, it’s not hurting and I’m not hesitating. I’m just shooting.”