By C.M. Tomlin
Back on the road from the Land of Lincoln to the Great Lakes State. After stopping in Stevensville, Michigan to catch UK/Vandy at an massive, ski-lodge-esque sports bar with everything from air hockey and darts to a life-sized tableau featuring a stormtrooper in a Saints jersey fighting Yoda in a Colts jersey, it was north to East Lansing for Big Ten basketball at its finest.
A chilly evening and icier reception in the E.L. last night (or “the 517,” if you prefer referring to your town by its area code) – anyone want to go in with me on funding a bar here that comfortably holds more than a hundred people and doesn’t play dance music? The city initially got off on the wrong foot with us, as the first four or five folks we asked directions of advice from gave us a glib blow-off line or just walked off. And here we were, showered and everything.
We eventually settled in to a decent enough bar for the evening and roused this morning to head to the Breslin Center bright and early for Ohio State at Michigan State. Some notes from Spartan Country:
People who live in East Lansing sure do wait in line a lot. Last night while exploring the town, it seemed that any place open after eleven had a line fifteen deep stretching out its door. When we arrived to the game this morning, fans were already lined up a good 100 yards outside Breslin to get into the Izzone. Everyone seems completely fine with that. I guess it takes a lot of patience since living in East Lansing, since you’re constantly waiting for the day you get to leave East Lansing.
It’s no mystery why no one can can lure Izzo away from here. I’ll give it to the students; the Izzone is one of the most fun and well organized student sections I’ve ever seen, and it’s a lot of fun. Everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing at all times. There’s no “You’re doing the wave? I was chanting deee-fense.” It doesn’t feel forced and it feels like the students truly belong there surrounding their team. It’s really loud, it’s got a very organic feel to it and during the amazingly raucous player introductions, I got a chill or two. For the first time on this trip, I felt a weird twinge of jealousy because I wanted to be a student at Michigan State. They’re clearly having a blast.
The Michigan State band tears the roof off the mother. Easily one of the best, cleanest-sounding pep bands I’ve ever heard at a basketball game. Bonus points for a seamless transition from “Hava Nagila” to Journey’s “Separate Ways.” I haven’t seen someone pull off that death-defying maneuver since Tony Orlando at the Stardust in 1987.
Kid Rock is here. I think I saw him signing Bill Raftery’s boob.
When things get quiet, Michigan State sophomore forward Draymond Green appears over the jumbotron and yells at you. It’s all a little unsettling, but he seems very adamant about my making some noise. And he’s a lot bigger than me.
It’s clear that the Izzone usually works, since the Spartans 206-25 at home with Izzo at the helm, but today it wasn’t to be as the Buckeyes outgunned the Spartans 74-67. The last two weeks has seen two Breslin losses: today’s to OSU and a Purdue on February 9.
“Disappointed wouldn’t be the word, I think it’s a little more than that,” Izzo said afterward. “This just didn’t seem like the team that practiced this week.”
Izzo took a lot of the blame upon himself and expressed a sympathy that junior guard Kalin Lucas had such a tough day handling Buckeye phenom Evan Turner, who turned up 20 points on a day he was rumored to be too sick to play.
“I’ll just say that I didn’t do a good enough job getting us ready – the coach is responsible for the game plan,” said Izzo. “But this team is still 21-7 and capable of playing anyone in this country.”That’s absolutely true. And now the Izzone goes quiet as the Spartans hit the road to face Purdue again in next Saturday in West Lafayette. But they’ll be back and this crowd will be ready and fiercer than ever. For now, they’ll just have to wait. But they’re completely fine with that.