Freshman Lucas sets pace for Spartans



EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is usually hard to please.

The demanding coach often prods his players both privately and publicly, striving to push them to reach their potential.

Izzo will, however, dish out praise when merited.

Kalin Lucas is proof of that.

Izzo said the point guard is the quickest player he’s coached in 13 years as a head coach and 25 seasons on the Spartans’ bench.

“It’s an honor to hear him say that, especially at a program like this,” Lucas said Sunday after matching a career high with 18 points in a 77-62 win over Michigan.

Lucas is averaging nearly 13 points and four-plus assists over the past 10 games, including an 18-point, six-assist, six-rebound performance against then-No. 4 Texas as he outplayed D.J. Augustin.

The impressive stretch has led Izzo to add to his free-flowing compliments for the lightning-quick Lucas.

“It’s been a while since a freshman has played at this level as consistently and as good for us,” Izzo said Monday.

Lucas has come off the bench to provide a change-of-pace lift for the Spartans (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) to help them match the best 20-game record in school history.

“That feels really good because a lot of great players and great teams have come through here,” Lucas said. “It’s a great accomplishment.”

If No. 8 Michigan State beats Illinois (10-11, 2-6) Wednesday night at home, it will have the best 21-game mark the elite program has ever had.

Lucas is averaging 9.9 points, ranking third on the team, and 24 minutes a game.

His success has cut into playing time for point guard Travis Walton, who is playing slightly less on average than Lucas, but the junior does not seem to harbor bitterness.

“We’re all about winning here,” Walton said. “Kalin is playing great and he deserves to play. I’m happy for him because it’s good for us.”

Izzo said Walton deserves credit for Lucas’ development.

“He’s much better defensively and he’s much tougher because of the way Travis plays him every day,” Izzo said.

When Lucas is on the court, it seems to make each of his teammates more of a threat.

His ability to break down a defender by dribbling forces opponents to pay more attention to the 6-foot, 180-pound guard. When they try to help and defend Lucas, it opens up scoring chances for others.

“What I think he’s really going to be able to do is, because he can penetrate so well, he can drop off balls to the big guys,” Izzo said. “In high school, he could penetrate in there and still get a shot off. Now, he’s got to learn to pull up or drop it off a little bit more. He’s starting to understand it.

“Then, he can shoot the 3, pull up, make other people better, or still get to the hole. That’s why he’s an electrifying player,” Izzo added.