EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Tom Izzo stewed while seated instead of shouting and standing as he led No. 13 Michigan State to an 83-67 season-opening win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday night, two-plus weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
“The only people happy were those zebras, those officials, because I sat there most of the game,” Izzo said.
Izzo was certainly pleased with the play of his point guard.
Foster Loyer made a career-high six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 20 points after earning the start over Rocket Watts, filling a key role on the team without NBA-bound Cassius Winston.
“Foster played better defensively than he did the first two years and that keeps him on the floor,” Izzo said.
Loyer made a flurry of 3-pointers to help the Spartans (1-0) pull away in the first half following a sluggish start against the Eagles’ zone defense.
“Our guys did a great job of finding open shooters and I was glad to see a couple go down,” he said.
Eastern Michigan (0-1) had three players on the bench, and put just two reserves in the game. The team was missing six student-athletes and assistant coach Kevin Mondro.
“They were out for COVID reasons, contact tracing,” Eagles coach Rob Murphy said. “None of the guys tested positive, but we had a manager test positive.”
Eastern Michigan’s Yeikson Montero scored 16, Ty Groce had 14 points and Darion Spottsville added 10 points.
Izzo thanked Murphy for bringing his short-handed team to play.
“He could’ve cancelled out of this game when he lost those big guys to COVID,'” Izzo said.
The pandemic delayed the start of the college basketball season by a couple weeks. It also affected Michigan State’s preparations because coach Izzo tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.
The Hall of Fame coach isolated at home for two weeks, dating to his first sign of symptoms, and returned to his on-campus office on Monday.
Izzo, like the rest of the coaches and players on the bench, covered his mouth and nose with a mask. Chairs for both teams were set up for social distancing by using two rows and wrapping them along the baseline.
To make the usually lively Breslin Center more intimate without fans, following the state’s stay-at-home order, a black curtain covered the upper level of empty seats. Pictures of fans covered bleachers that were pushed back around the perimeter of the arena floor, cutouts of spectators were behind the benches and crowd noise was piped in.
“Our marketing people did a phenomenal job in trying to make a house a home,” Izzo said. “These players are getting robbed of the fans right now and hopefully that’ll come back sooner than later.
“We’re going to really try to make it a special place, especially for our seniors.”
If there were fans in the stands, they would have roared with the return of Joshua Langford. The senior guard scored 10 points, playing for the first time in nearly two years due to his injury-riddled career.
“It’s definitely different because we’re used to playing with fans and I believe we have the greatest fans in the country with the Izzone,” Langford said. “We definitely miss the fans, but as long as I can play the game and put two shoes on I’m good. I’m just thankful. Two years ago, I didn’t think I would be back so it is a blessing just to be able to lace up my shoes again.”
Joey Hauser, a transfer from Marquette, had 15 points and nine rebounds in his first game with the Spartans.
“It has been a long time and I was struggling,” he said
Eastern Michigan: The depleted team was very competitive for the opening minutes, leading 19-7, and can build some confidence off that stretch of the game.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for coming in and competing with the No. 13 team in the country on their own floor,” Murphy said.
Michigan State: The team lost two stars, Winston and Xavier Tillman, and will try to make up for those losses with a lot of contributing players. Izzo will likely use a 10-man rotation in most games.
The Spartans may move up in The Top 25 with another win later this week against Notre Dame.
HE SAID IT
“It was a night of basketball and I think that’s what we all needed,” Izzo said.
Eastern Michigan hosts Toledo on Dec. 4.
Michigan State hosts the Fighting Irish on Saturday night night.