Friday is the 11-year anniversary of when Michigan State lost to North Carolina on the flight deck of a Naval aircraft carrier in San Diego.
The Spartans will give it another try on Veterans Day when they battle No. 2 Gonzaga on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego harbor in the Armed Forces Classic.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo enjoyed the experience on the USS Carl Vinson in 2011 if not the outcome of The Carrier Classic — a 67-55 loss — and was eager to bring his current team west for a contest on another carrier in San Diego.
“We will get a chance to get on the ship and shoot a little bit, and practice a little bit,” Izzo said after Monday’s season-opening 73-55 win over Northern Arizona. “It’s exciting.”
Izzo has referred to the 2011 game as “one of the most humbling experiences of my career.”
The Spartans also lost to UConn in the 2012 Armed Forces Classic in Germany and to Arizona in the 2016 event in Honolulu.
Gonzaga was slated to play Pitt in the 2015 Armed Forces Classic in Japan but the contest was canceled due to a slippery floor.
Of course, Izzo is aware his Spartans (1-0) will face quite a challenge playing Mark Few’s high-powered Bulldogs (1-0).
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Izzo said. “We’re playing a good team, and a really well-coached team. Mark and I are good friends. We’re on a board together. We will have to play a lot better than we did (Monday).”
Gonzaga went on a 26-0 run early in its opener as it trounced North Florida 104-63.
Preseason All-American Drew Timme scored 22 points and the Zags got a strong performance from Malachi Smith, a transfer from Chattanooga who was the Southern Conference Player of the Year last season.
Smith had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and made a strong impression on his teammates, including Timme.
“He just has a knack for scoring,” Timme said. “He knows the positions he needs to get in, he just knows how to move without the ball, knows how to play with the ball.
“I think he’s exactly what we knew we were getting when we got him. He’s a player of the year in conference caliber of player. He is that good.”
It was no surprise that Gonzaga was clicking offensively, though the team’s 63.2 shooting percentage was higher than expected for an opener.
The Bulldogs led the nation in scoring last season at 87.2 points per game. Defense will be the thing to watch against the Spartans.
“Look, offense is probably not going to be a problem that many times for us,” Timme said. “I think we’ve established we can put the ball in the basket. I think defense could be our Achilles’ heel eventually and that’s something we’re trying to attack head on and I think Coach (Few) has done a good job of really drilling that in our heads and I think we’re doing a good job of responding.”
As for Michigan State, Joey Hauser contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Northern Arizona. Pierre Brooks added 14 and made four 3-pointers.
The Spartans limited the Lumberjacks to 31.7 percent from the field.
Michigan State has won four of its previous five meetings with Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ lone win was memorable — 109-106 in triple overtime in the 2005 Maui Invitational semifinals.
–Field Level Media