Izzo praises his alma mater

Ray Bressette

The NMU men’s basketball team had the opportunity to get to know Wildcat legend and current Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo last week in an exhibition match with the No. 13-ranked Spartans on Wednesday, Nov. 4 in Lansing.

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 4: Northern Michigan vs Michigan State at the Student Event Breslin Center on November 4, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio)
EAST LANSING, MI – NOVEMBER 4: Northern Michigan vs Michigan State at the Student Event Breslin Center on November 4, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio)

NMU’s sophomore guard Jordan Perez said Izzo offered great hospitality to the Wildcats during their visit to the
Division I campus.

“We had a shootaround with him the day of the game, and he showed us all around their facilities and his office,” Perez said. “He talked to us about his time at NMU and how he wants to help change the program here. We all want a higher culture, and he said it all starts with us.”

Izzo, an Iron Mountain, Mich. native, played at NMU from 1973-77 and was an assistant coach from 1979-83. In his 20 years with Michigan State, Izzo has reached seven Final Four appearances and brought home one national championship.

During the exhibition game on Wednesday, Nov. 4, the Wildcats kept up with Izzo’s Spartans on the scoreboard throughout the first half, cutting down a 9-0 Spartan lead to a single basket, with Michigan State then entering halftime leading 38-33.

Following the game, Izzo said his former Wildcats gave it to his Spartans the first 20 minutes of the game.

“I was proud of my alma mater in the first half, and very disappointed with my team,” Izzo said. “We had a nine-point lead and were playing really well. When we put our second group in, we looked like the Bad News Bears for a while. We had our heads down, dribbled and didn’t pass or move the ball. Give Northern credit. they made some great plays and guys were
making shots.”

The Wildcats were 6-16 from the three-point line in the first half of Wednesday’s game, outshooting the Spartans from the distance with a 37.5 percent conversion rate compared to State’s 23.1 percent completion.

NMU head coach Bill Sall said the first half showed great potential for his team this season.

“We saw a lot of good things out of our guys in a hostile environment,” Sall said. “Defensively we did a good job on a number of possessions executing what we needed to. We showed that we have athleticism on the defensive end, and for the first half we rebounded pretty well. At the end of the day, it was a great experience that our guys will
always remember.”

In the second half, the Spartans turned their offense around to outscore NMU 56-20 to their 94-53 win over the Wildcats.Perez led NMU in scoring in the match with 15 points.

Izzo said the ’Cats were still a challenging opponent despite their second half performance.

“We regrouped at halftime, talked about it, and subbed differentially in the second half,” Izzo said. “We played better and they didn’t play as well, but we still have a lot of work to do.

“Northern played well in the first half and you shouldn’t take anything away from that.

“They’re not real big [in height], which won’t be bad in their league. It made it tough on us having centers cover guards. All in all, we both got something out of it.”

Izzo said he has confidence in Sall’s ability to bring NMU back to a competitive level.

“Sall did a good job spreading the court better than we did,” Izzo said. “He’s going to be a good coach at NMU. I’m really excited about my alma mater’s chances to get back to the
golden era.”