Though Michigan State began the season with a 30-point victory, coach Tom Izzo saw areas his team could improve upon.
However, he didn’t see any problems with Kalin Lucas.
Izzo said he’ll continue to monitor Lucas’ minutes as the star guard continues working his way back from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon when the second-ranked Spartans host South Carolina on Tuesday night.
Michigan State opened with a 96-66 win over Eastern Michigan on Friday. The Spartans held the Eagles to 31.6 percent shooting and outrebounded them 51-40, but had 20 turnovers and missed 14 free throws.
“I don’t feel comfortable for where we are and where we need to be,” Izzo said.
There was one big positive that Izzo saw. Lucas, the Big Ten preseason player of the year, scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half in his first meaningful action since rupturing his left Achilles’ in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
He only started playing 1 1/2 months ago after not being able to play for six months, so Izzo wants to make sure Lucas isn’t overworked early in the season.
“He just has to get back to getting used to being on the court,” Izzo said. “It’s going to take some time, but I was pleased. … For the severity of the injury, he did an excellent job.”
Lucas, who had six assists Friday, could get more of a break Tuesday when Korie Lucious rejoins the lineup. Izzo suspended Lucious for one game after he pleaded guilty in September to misdemeanor reckless driving.
The backup point guard averaged 5.6 points and 3.3 assists last season, mostly off the bench. However, he was inserted into the starting lineup when Lucas went down, averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 assists in those three games to help Michigan State reach the Final Four.
Izzo said Friday that Lucas had to play so many minutes (26) partly due to Lucious being unavailable.
“I don’t want to play him for long stretches,” Izzo said, “but we were a little hampered without (Mike) Kebler (ankle) or Lucious which was tough.”
Lucas won’t have too much time to tune up before the competition gets tougher because Izzo’s teams always play one of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the country. This year is no exception.
After Tuesday’s home game, the Spartans will take off for the Maui Invitational, where they could face Connecticut and possibly No. 12 Kentucky or No. 17 Washington. They visit top-ranked Duke on Dec. 1 and play No. 10 Syracuse six days later in New York.
Michigan State, which has won 48 straight non-conference games in East Lansing, will look to improve to 40-0 in November at home under Izzo when it takes on a South Carolina team that anticipates some struggles after losing the SEC’s leading scorer.
The Gamecocks (1-0) need someone to make up the production of Devan Downey, who averaged 22.5 points last season. Sam Muldrow, the team’s top returning scorer, had 20 points in a 94-79 win over Elon on Friday. Lakeem Jackson added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“I think the story of this game is what we hope is going to be the story of our team and our entire program moving forward as it continues to build - it was the strength of our team tonight,” said coach Darrin Horn, who had nine players on the court for at least 10 minutes.
South Carolina won its first four games last season before finishing 15-16 and went 2-5 against Top 25 teams, including a home victory over top-ranked Kentucky on Jan. 26.
Michigan State leads South Carolina 3-2 in the all-time series, which dates back to 1941. The Spartans won 59-56 in the most recent meeting in 1999.