The exhibition season finally came to a close on Monday as the Spartans dispatched Ferris State 93-57. The Bulldogs came into the game fresh off a GLIAC Tournament Championship last year and owned a No. 23 ranking in the Division II poll.
The Spartans struggled to find their shot early, specifically Eron Harris. The guard had a rough first showing against Northern Michigan and started slow in the first half. He made his first shot, a beautiful up-and-under layup to open the game, but couldn’t hit much from distance. He connected on his first three-pointer of the season late in the first half, snapping an 0-7 streak.
Ferris State cut the deficit to 12 in the second half, but that’s as close as they would get. Despite winning by almost 40 points, Coach Izzo was not happy with the overall effort level of his team.
“That’s part of the culture change I’m trying to do,” said Izzo. “Let’s make every game where we’re gonna play it and play the game, not the team. Today we failed a little bit.”
Deyonta Davis struggled early in his second career game, going scoreless in the first half and eventually fouling out in only six minutes on the court. Junior forward Gavin Schilling had an idea as to why he struggled so much.
“Just his positioning, and at the same time the refs were kinda picking on him because he’s a freshman, he’s new to the game,” said Schilling. “It kinda reminded me of my freshman year, but he’s gonna be good for us, especially later in the season.”
Speaking of Schilling, he posted one of his best games of his career. He stayed out of foul trouble and was extremely efficient with his limited playing time. He scored 12 points on perfect shooting from the field and nabbed five boards.
“He rebounded pretty well, he ran the court pretty well, he made a couple great moves down there,” said Izzo. “He’s playing better. He’s been one of the bright spots from Italy to now.”
The walking triple-double (a.k.a. Denzel Valentine) followed up his stellar first outing with an equally impressive second. He has not disappointed the writers at ESPN who ranked him the No. 3 best player in the country. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Apparently that kind of stat line is not enough to escape Izzo’s ire.
“He was ok today,” said Izzo. “I’m complaining about him and he had 15, seven and seven. But you know what? He should have that and more.”
Valentine was just as tough a critic as Izzo was, and expected more out of himself more than just what the box score reflected.
“Coach is 100 percent right,” said Valentine. “I didn’t play to my capabilities. I should’ve had way more than that. I should’ve had another triple double and probably scored more than that. He expects more out of me, to lead the team better.”
Matt McQuaid looked much more in control of the game than against NMU. He spent considerable time at the point and facilitated the offense well, picking up eight assists along with nine points off the bench.
“He can really shoot the ball,” said Izzo, “he just has to figure out when he’s open and when he’s not. And he can drive, you know, he’s a very good athlete and he understands the game, he understands angles.”
McQuaid figures to make an impact in the rotation if he keeps playing as unselfishly as he has in his first two games. The leadership on the MSU squad will be key in his development.
“I’m getting more comfortable every practice and every game, and it’s mostly because the upperclassmen are helping me out,” said McQuaid. “They’re always taking me in, giving me suggestions and giving me tips. Even during practice, Denzel will put his arm around me and he’ll tell me how to make it easier or better.”
Hero of the night: Denzel Valentine. He flirted with another triple-double and most likely would’ve achieved it had Izzo not pulled him from the game. He’s the most well-rounded player that Spartans have had since Draymond Green.
Quote of the night: Izzo, describing the defensive effort from Eron Harris: “It’s not Iowa’s girl’s basketball of 30 years ago, you gotta play both ends.”
Injury updates: Sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. has been held out of both exhibition games due to a foot injury. He said after the game the goal is to come back by Thanksgiving, when the Spartans will be in California for the Wooden Legacy Tournament.
Schilling was limited to just 13 minutes despite his solid play due to a toe injury. He said he hyperextended it when making a cut and will go for x-rays on Tuesday.