BOWLING GREEN — Tom Izzo got off the bus late Monday afternoon, led his Michigan State team into the Stroh Center for a shooting session, and was greeted by Bowling Green coach Louis Orr.
Izzo looked around and commented on how much he liked the new venue.
“It’s a lot nicer than the old place,” Orr agreed. “You remember that old place?”
Izzo laughed. Yeah, he remembered it. Orr realized what he had said and, having not a single mean bone in his body, reacted almost apologetically.
Izzo was a Jud Heathcote assistant in 1990 when the No. 5-ranked Spartans visited Anderson Arena, the old place, and suffered a 98-85 upset loss.
They called the venerable joint “the house that roars,” and, boy, did it roar that night. So did Heathcote on his way out. He promised he’d never be back.
“Jud kept his word,” Izzo said with a laugh Tuesday night.
But Heathcote’s successor returned more than two decades later and survived to enjoy the night. The Spartans ruled the last 10 minutes and pulled out a 64-53 win this time before a sellout crowd of 4,291.
“Behind closed doors I was worried to death about this game,” Izzo said. “I came out and saw that crowd and I figured you know if we’re going to be any good we have to win games like this in places like this. Now that it’s over I’m glad we did it.”
Still, Izzo admitted taking his nationally ranked team and his long-established program on the road against a mid-major opponent “is insane. I gotta take a page out of [Jim] Boeheim’s book,” referring to the Syracuse coach who won his 900th game the other night and is renowned for leaving the Carrier Dome only under duress. “But I’ll probably keep doing this,” Izzo said, “because I’m dumb.”
He is anything but. Still, he and his team weren’t looking too bright with 10 ½ minutes left and the score tied 45-45 after Chauncey Orr’s 3-pointer.
The sophomore son of BG’s coach, it was Chauncey’s coming-out party. He had matched his career high of 11 points in the first half alone. But it all ended seconds later when he suffered leg cramps at the defensive end and was unable to return.
BG’s ability to score left the court with him.
The Falcons went scoreless for 4½ minutes, give or take, and were outgunned 19-8 to the final buzzer while shooting just 1 of 11 from the field.
“Michigan State packed it in inside and forced us to live and die with the jump shot,” BG forward A’uston Calhoun said.
The Falcons died.
“Chauncey, I thought offensively, he was really good,” his dad said. “It was great to see him play with that kind of confidence. He got cramped up and we missed his offense. We were right there, but then we scored one field goal the rest of the way and you can’t survive that, especially against a team like Michigan State.”
After that lengthy drought, BG never seemed in it, but neither were the Falcons completely out of it. Still, Orr opted to sit Jordan Crawford, the team’s leading scorer entering the game but 4 of 14 on the night, for the final six minutes despite it further handcuffing the offense.
Call it tough love.
“Give Louis credit,” Izzo said. “If a guy’s not playing the way he wants, he takes him out.”
It added to the respect Izzo has for Orr and his staff. In fact, Izzo said it’s the only reason he agreed to play the game here.
He left in a far better mood than Heathcote. Maybe it won’t be 22 years before the Spartans’ next visit.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.