EAST LANSING - Heading into the final five games of the regular season and a must-win situation on Saturday night against Illinois, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo likes the way some of his team's parts are coming together, and intends to focus on those that still need work.
"There are no secrets that we have to get individual guys better," Izzo said following Thursday's practice at Breslin Center. "Our focus last night and today for me was on Durrell Summers, plain and simple."
Summers, Michigan State's starting small forward who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional last year in leading the Spartans to the Final Four, was held scoreless on just one shot attempt during Tuesday's 71-61 loss at Ohio State. Michigan State fell to 14-11 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten.
In conference games, Summers is shooting just 35 percent from the floor and 32 percent from 3-point range while averaging 11.2 points per game.
Izzo had a long meeting with Summers in his office on Wednesday. On Thursday, Summers asked to speak to the team before practice, and delivered an emotional, impromptu speech while no coaches were in the gym.
"Durrell is hurting right now, which is a good thing," said Izzo. "It's a good thing because it means that it matters. You wondered if he even cared when you looked at a couple of things that went on in that game.
"One of Durell's problems, he doesn't open up to people. And that just magnifies and weighs on you. But what he did today a little bit, they realize he is hurting too, he is human too, he bleeds, he cries, he does everything like the rest of us. Sometimes he just hides it more.
"I told him the good news now is you've got nobody but your family. It's just us, because everybody else has kind of given up on you, just like they have me. That's what happens when you lose.
"I usually get on people until they're hurting, and then when they do, I'm going the other way a little bit. So I'm going to get him through this. I am going to make this my own personal goal for this season, to get him back on track.
"I met with DayDay (Draymond Green) and Kalin Lucas and nobody has been more sympathetic and nobody has been harder on him than me, but at the same time what I saw in an interview on TV late the other night is something that hit home with me, and it was Gene Keady talking about, 'Your players are your players. Sometimes you are going to be mad at them, and sometimes you are going to be happy with them, but they are part of your family.' And I have an obligation now to get him out of this funk. And we are going to get him out of it, and we are going to do it collectively, as assistants, as coaches, as a team. We need him.
"He talked with me today. I told him, there are going to be certain things demanded of him. But other things that aren't demanded of him. I'm not going to demand that he makes shots. That's so unfair. And he has worked at it. But he has to realize there is more to his game. Score other ways. Get to the free throw line. Get rebounds. Guard somebody. Don't let the ball be thrown in the backcourt and don't go get it."
That's what happened during a key, backbreaking moment for the Spartans on Tuesday. Trailing by 5 with 5:41 left, Summers stood still while Garrick Sherman's attempted to save an MSU possession by hurling the ball to the backcourt as he fell out of bounds. Summers felt he couldn't get to the ball, and stood still, watching it bound past the halfcourt line. Rather than hustling back to recover the ball for an over-and-back violation, Summers watched as Ohio State's Aaron Craft sprinted to the loose ball, and converted a reverse lay-up while being fouled by Keith Appling. The bucket and free throw put Ohio State up 61-53, and in firm control of the game the rest of the way.
"That's when he came out, and didn't go back in," Izzo said. "Sure (we talked about that). He knows it. It happened one other time with Paul (Davis)."
That was during a costly loss at Michigan in 2003 during Davis's freshman year. MSU rebounded that year from 11 losses in the regular season to make an unlikely run to the Elite Eight.
The error put an ugly cap on a frustrating evening during which Summers not only went scoreless, but also went to the bench with two fouls less than :90 seconds into the game. He sat most of the first half, and the last five minutes of the game.
"It doesn't mean he is a bad kid," Izzo said of the errors. "He probably let everything get to him and has not focused in on what really is important. What's really important is the people in this building. What's really important is the guys that you shower with. What's really important is the guys that you fly with. So it's not about letting you down, it's about letting them down.
"Be a better teammate is something that I preach to him a lot. I don't think it's all his fault, either. Sometimes it's what you've gone through in life, how you're brought up. But that's the part that has to change. I think it might."
The Spartans as a team seemed to hit rock bottom two weeks ago, when getting blown out at Iowa and Wisconsin. But Summers' lowest point didn't come until the game at Ohio State.
"Maybe you hit bottom and you say, 'Okay, quit worrying about what has been and start worrying about what could be,' and I know I have done a better job of that," Izzo said. "That's what I have to get into Durrell's head. The other guys are really getting excited about opportunities ahead instead of disappointments behind. I feel we can help him, believe it or not.
"What we talked about today is: We can't control whether you make shots. You are no different than Respert, Smith and Skiles and all the others that were pretty much shooters, but you happen to have a gift that some of the others didn't have. You are athletic as hell, you can check, you can rebound, you can get to the line other ways, you can score other ways. We have to deal with the things we can control. You have to be able to do other things to stay on the floor and help your team win and not get caught up in what is hard for you. I think he understands that."
To see Thursday night's interview with Durrell Summers, use the link below or view it in the player above. Video by Gillian Van Stratt.