It had been more than a month since Russell Byrd hit a 3-pointer in a game when he came up big for Michigan State at Iowa.
While his shot with 33 seconds left in overtime was timely, the junior has been finding other ways to contribute to the Spartans’ winning ways.
”I think one shot can give you a lot of confidence,” Byrd said, “but besides the shot on Tuesday night, I think the biggest way I’ve been contributing is defensively and just communication on the court.”
Defense and communication abilities are far from what Tom Izzo recruited when he looked at Byrd. For the potential of being lethal shooter, absolutely, but now making a jump defensively has been an adjustment for Byrd.
”I think it’s good for me to have a more well-rounded game,” he said. “It’s kind of what they are happiest with me about has been my defense and just being there and being reliable.
”It’s definitely been an adjustment and I’m just glad I’m helping people win games.”
Winning is something the Spartans have been doing plenty of, to the tune of a 19-2 record. Having players out with injuries is another common occurrence this season, though, and the need for Byrd and other bench players to contribute has grown.
“It galvanizes you, there’s no question about it,” Izzo said. “That’s good because those guys that are on the bench, something could happen in the NCAA tournament, something could happen in the Big Ten tournament.”
Naturally, Byrd said making an impact in part because of the misfortune of others isn’t ideal.
”You never want your friends to go through pain, but you always have to be ready for your opportunity,” he said. “I think it will be good for our team down the road. Guys are getting good experience right now.”
Nevertheless, he is making the most of his chance. The opportunity for Byrd increased prior to the Spartans’ matchup with Michigan last weekend when forward Branden Dawson broke his hand.
The junior guard had been on the court for just nine minutes in conference play, while playing in only two of seven games.
He played 13 minutes against the Wolverines and showed his defensive contributions with an emphatic block of Glenn Robinson – and the emotion to jaw at the Michigan forward. It was an earlier play he said set the tone.
“I think it kind of started when I got switched off on (Nik) Stauskas early in the first half and made him force up a bad shot,” he said. “The coaches and the guys were really positive about that play.
”That kind of just maybe clicked in my head that I could keep guys in front of me and I’m big and I’m strong and that’s definitely valuable on the basketball court.”
He played 19 minutes at Iowa, but didn’t score until the final one. While the wait was long to make an impact in the box score, Byrd was fine by it.
”Just by being here so long, I kind of know how we play our defense and I know how we run our offense,” he said. “Just having me on the court can be a security blanket for coach and younger guys.
”The shot was great, but I think I’ve been doing other things that are a lot more important.”