Senior Spartans point guard Keith Appling tied a career high Monday night, putting up 25 points in a win for the newly crowned No. 1 Michigan State Spartans. Coach Tom Izzo called Appling's performance "worth the price of admission."
Only problem was, plenty of locals didn't get find their way to the Breslin Center.
For the second consecutive home game, Michigan State struggled against a mid-major team. On Monday night, the Spartans headed home with an 82-67 win over Portland, but at times MSU looked as out of sorts as it did on Friday night, when picked-last-in-the-Ivy-League Columbia gave Sparty a scare.
Izzo was upset -- but not necessarily with his team. He told reporters afterward he felt "disappointment" by the lack of attendance at the game. The tilt technically sold out, but plenty with ducats ducked out on showing.
MSU fans should be embarrassed. It didn't make sense, and Izzo begged the fans to give away their tickets, if they didn't want to come. He even offered to be the go-between. He sounded like somebody who was still trying to build his program, not somebody suddenly on top, if only in the rankings.
“I've got thousands of people who are dying to come,” Izzo said. ...
The small crowd “had an effect on a lot of people,” Izzo said, “including me.”
You could understand why Izzo would be upset. This came about just hours after Michigan State earned its first No. 1 ranking in the polls since 2001, only the third time in program history MSU has climbed to the top spot in the AP rankings. A big day and night for the team, to be certain.
It's also a change in momentum from what the student body pulled off in the preseason, when thousands flooded the field near Breslin to camp out for Izzone season tickets. That building and that program have come a long way since Izzo took over, and now it seems like the fan base is taking for granted, just a little bit, how precious vicious home-court advantage can be.
I get that it's a November game against a no-name team, and that doesn't exactly get the bodies to the building. But Izzo has prided himself on the program's ability to have sellouts for just about any kind of game. In some ways it's inevitable, but in others you can see why coaches believe their team should be close to capacity for every game in a season with Final Four expectations.
This isn't the first time Izzo's lamented attendance despite good performance from his team. And he's not the only big-time college coach to do so in recent years. Mike Krzyzewski said similar things of the Cameron Crazies a couple of years back, after that sect started dwindling for some games. Almost every program is prone to this, even in the best of years. Doesn't mean coaches will stop campaigning for their fan bases to rally, even if it seems odd they'd have to do it to begin with.