EAST LANSING, Mich. His team was fighting for survival in the NCAA tournament Sunday, but Michigan State freshman guard Brandan Kearney was on the bench in tears after making some mental mistakes and being taken out of the game.
Draymond Green, the Spartans senior captain, said Monday that he talked with Kearney about the situation following the victory over Saint Louis.
I just let him know you have to be careful, Green said. We know you were upset with yourself, but it wont be perceived as that. Perception is reality so you have to be very careful and control your emotions and when you let your emotions out.
It can look as youre coming off as a bad apple or youre coming off as a bad teammate. It clearly wasnt that. It was completely opposite.
I just talked to him about channeling his emotions and knowing when you can let your emotions out, although we all knew it was for the right reasons.
Both Kearney and freshman point guard Travis Trice key reserves for the Spartans - struggled on the big stage Sunday with a Sweet 16 spot on the line.
The game wasnt as pretty or as dominant as the Spartans would have preferred against a No. 9 seed, but coach Tom Izzo got what he wanted out of it.
That included taking a physical opponent's best shot, along with being able to point out the youthful mistakes by his freshmen.
It was good to get punched in the mouth, Izzo said. We really did get punched in the mouth. It was a slugfest. I dont think everybody handled it quite right. But thats going to help us down the road.
We wobbled a little but I think we came back. This was one of the best learning games Ive had since Ive been here.
I think were going to grow from that, the young guys are going to grow.
For Izzo, it was the best of both worlds in that sense because the Spartans moved on to Thursdays regional semifinal against Louisville, but he also had some major teaching points to address with his players.
That doesn't always happen in a victory. At least not to this extent, according to the coach.
I dont think it was anything but just a little bit of nervousness by both of them, Izzo said of the lapses by Kearney and Trice. Pretty natural when you get into that kind of setting.
"They made some mistakes on (defensive) switches and on things like that that they havent made all year. It wasnt as much effort related as it was thinking related. You always get to this time of the year and freshmen all over the country struggle.
But I think yesterday was a great day. We were able to have a learning day and still win. Usually you can only learn because something bad happens and you lose the game, then youve got to wait a whole year.
We had a good meeting when we got back here last night and talked about all those things that weve got to handle, including the hype of everything and how it now magnifies. I think both of those guys will be great mentally (because of the experience).
Izzos main message to the youngsters was that the margin of error is very small in this one-and-done tournament.
And it can get even smaller with each round.
One free throw, one missed switch, one missed uncontested three, one missed cut-out can mean the game, Izzo said. If Day-Day (Green) and Austin (Thornton) and (Brandon) Wood and (Anthony) Ianni are done (all are seniors), youre going to feel bad that we made that mistake.
So lets learn from it and figure out that for the whole 40 minutes, I better be glued in to whats going on because one thing can change it.
That didn't happen Sunday. The Spartans overcame the freshman mistakes.
But next time, they might not be so fortunate.
Green was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year, along with Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis, Kansas junior Thomas Robinson and Creighton sophomore Doug McDermott.
The winner will be announced April 1 at the Final Four.
I wouldnt have said this even a month ago, but he may be the best player in college basketball because of what he does, Izzo said of Green's versatility. When you talk about a valuable guy, this kid has done it all.
... Green is 12 rebounds from tying Greg Kelser for the school's career record. Kelser had 1,092 rebounds from 1975-79.
... Michigan State recruit Matt Costello was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Michigan. Costello, who signed a letter of intent with the Spartans last fall, is a 6-foot-10 senior forward from Bay City.