EAST LANSING - Austin Thornton led Michigan State in scoring for the first time in his career while Michigan State defeated Arkansas-Little Rock, 69-47, Sunday evening at the Breslin Center.
Thornton scored 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting, along with 7-of-9 shooting from the foul line for Michigan State (2-2). Thornton also added 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
Draymond Green had 9 points and 10 rebounds, but the Spartans took harsh criticism from head coach Tom Izzo after Michigan State was held without an offensive rebound for the entire first half.
The Spartans missed 13 shots in the opening 20 minutes, while failing to get an offensive board. MSU led 32-22 at the break, but Izzo wasn't happy.
"We don't get an offensive rebound in the first half, I think, for the first time in the history of my part of the program," Izzo said. "A complete lack of energy by our young guys. I have to take some blame for it because I'm rotating those lineups in there, trying to play 11 games, which is not going to happen very much longer, but I'm trying to see what my team is and isn't.
"I was subbing around all the time, probably breaking some momentum. I don't know if it was youth or poor coaching or the four games in nine days, but I was disappointed in my team.
"I can't live with the defensive lapses or the lack of offensive rebounds. Any effort things tonight, we failed."
"We're a young team, but we didn't grow tonight," Green said.
Izzo wasn't even satisfied with Thornton, a fifth-year senior who had the best statistical night of his college career.
"Stats sometimes are misleading," Izzo said. "I need Austin to be our leader. I need him to be a captain. I need him to be a communicator."
And an occasional shooter from the perimeter. But Thornton missed three shots from 3-point range against zone defenses.
"He couldn't buy a shot early," Izzo said. "Stat-wise, he played good. That would be my comment."
Thornton should take those comments as a compliment.
"I know I can do better," Thornton said. "The hard work I've put in is paying off in some areas. I'm feeling like a basketball player again, instead of a robot. But those shots need to go in, too."
Arkansas-Little Rock, a team which is in rebuilding mode after making the the NCAA Tournament last year, fell to 2-3.
The Spartans had seven offensive rebounds on 14 missed shots in the second half, a rate of 50 percent, which is closer to the Izzo norm.
For the game, MSU out-rebounded Little Rock 40-36.
MSU was just 25-of-41 from the foul line, and Izzo suspected that his players' lack of respect for the game on Sunday night figured into the problems on the boards, on the foul line and elsewhere. See video below.