LAS VEGAS — Michigan State finished its game against Texas by outscoring the Longhorns by 18 in the second half on Friday, hitting eight 3-pointers and winning by 10.
But as he stood in a hallway outside his team’s locker room at Orleans Arena, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was more focused on the first half, when his team turned the ball over eight times in just over five minutes to start the game.
“We were just throwing it to them,” Izzo said. “I guess we learned a good lesson.”
There was good and bad in Michigan State’s two days at the Las Vegas Invitational, where the Spartans won two games in completely opposite fashion.
Against UCLA, Michigan State jumped out to a 29-point first half lead and overwhelmed a young Bruins team throughout.
Against Texas, the Spartans crumbled against the Longhorns’ ball pressure and fell behind by as many as 19 points, then recovered and found their shot to stage a second-half comeback.
The Spartans won both ways, yet Izzo was able to find a common thread between them.
“It was a fistfight, I thought the UCLA game was, too,” Izzo said. “Those are more than NBA games as far as how physical they were.”
In the Spartans’ first true tests since the season-opener against, they proved they can rely on veterans while getting increasing contributions from younger players.
Cassius Winston won tournament MVP honors after scoring 19 points and dishing out 17 assists for the two games. Joshua Langford had just as strong a case for the honor, as he scored a career-high 29 points against Texas, after scoring 14 against UCLA.
Just as Michigan State had hoped this season, its veteran returning starters carried the load in its toughest games.
“Our experience helped us,” Izzo said. “Look who came through, Josh and Cash.”
Beyond those two, though, the Spartans got valuable contributions from some younger players who have increasing adjusted to college basketball
When Michigan State was struggling in the first half against Texas on Friday, it notably turned to freshman forward Aaron Henry early. Henry subbed in with 13 minutes left in the first half and played until the break.
He finished with 21 minutes, fourth most on the team, while scoring eight points and hauling in six rebounds.
Henry said he felt like he was too passive the day before against UCLA. But as a slasher who likes to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop, Texas’ defensive pressure suited his game well, as he found his way to the basket several times.
“I’m not going to let anyone get close to me when I’m going to the basket,” Henry said. “That’s just how it is. I’m going to show you I can handle the ball.”
Michigan State also played freshmen Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier in short stretches to add depth to its frontcourt rotation.
“Some of those guys are just going to play minutes now until we get some confidence,” Izzo said.
There’s little time to rest and take stock, though. Michigan State will head to Louisville on Tuesday for an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game and to Rutgers on Friday to open Big Ten play, part of four straight games away from home to close out November.
“We had to earn our way and we did earn our way, so I’m going to be disappointed in some things but I’m going to be excited about some things and try to move on next week, because you know the stretch we’re in right now,” Izzo said.