EAST LANSING — Michigan State sophomore center Matt Costello might not have felt like his normal self in the Spartans’ 79-65 loss to North Carolina on Wednesday night, but he played like a new man.
Costello, who usually starts for the Spartans, came off the bench, and was limited, due to an illness that has been bothering him since MSU traveled to Brookyln, N.Y. for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo thinks it could be serious.
“Costello’s got a little, actually thought it was the flu but might be a slight case of mono (mononucleosis),” Izzo said. “I wasn’t even going to play him and he probably played as hard as anybody on our team, and I give him probably the most credit.”
If Costello’s energy was low, it wasn’t evident in his play when he was on the floor. He scored the Spartans’ first field goal of the game, four minutes in, and finished with six points, four rebounds and a career-high four blocks against a Tar Heels (5-2) team that scorched the Spartans (7-1) in the paint.
While it was clear from the jump that Michigan State wasn’t engaged enough to hand UNC its second consecutive loss — as they never led once in the game — they had no chance of winning unless Costello was on the floor providing the only jolt of energy to the lifeless Spartans.
“Most of the time when my back’s up against the wall I swing,” Costello said. “That was my swing I guess.”
Costello had the game’s best sequence in the final minutes of the first half when he posted up on the block and found a clear opening to the basket for a monstrous two-handed slam and then followed that up with an electric block on the other end that caused the whole arena to erupt.
Unfortunately, for Izzo and the program, no one else played with the motor that Costello possessed, and that was the difference in the game.
“We should have won,” Costello said. “We are a better team, we just played like crap. It was all energy. Guys were walking up and down the court, not even the fact we shot however we shot from the field, it was all energy. That was the only thing that messed us up.”
Inconsistent play from the center position is one of the glaring weaknesses of this Michigan State team, and while Costello was the only big, opposite of Payne, that showed promise in the defeat, he understands that he needs to pick it up in order for the Spartans to win their second national title under Izzo.
“Coach has been asking me for a while, as far as the consistency thing, ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t you doing well?’,” Costello said. “I think some of it has to do with the sickness, but I wasn’t very mentally engaged in the beginning of the season. Hopefully, I can come back and do well. And then we got Gav (Gavin Schilling) and Al (Alex Gauna) who will pick it up and we’ll be just fine.”
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