EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Derrick Nix looked like a player living up to his potential Sunday night.
He made low-post moves, dished to teammates when he drew defenders, set screens and was solid on defense to help Michigan State earn a much-needed win against Indiana.
Nix scored a season-high nine points, made a career-high three free throws, tripled his previous best with three assists and played a career-high 23 minutes.
“I proved something – not to the coaches – but to myself,” he said.
Nix also did at least a couple things that didn’t show up in the box score, setting a pick that freed up Kalin Lucas for a key basket and tying up Indiana guard Jordan Hulls with 1.2 seconds left in overtime of the 84-83 win.
“If anybody feeds Nix in the dorm, I’m going to kill,” coach Tom Izzo joked after the game.
The 6-foot-9 Nix weighed as much as 340 pounds in high school, splitting time between Detroit Pershing and Murray Wright, lost a lot of weight entering last season and trimmed down to 266 pounds last summer.
“He was in the best shape of his life,” Izzo said Monday.
Izzo planned to play him about 20 minutes a game, but he almost ate himself off the team.
Nix packed the pounds back on and that led to Izzo leaving the sophomore home when the Spartans went to the Maui Invitational. He was able to rejoin the team after meeting with coaches and players, then the Detroiter and former Mr. Basketball for Michigan dedicated himself to eating less and working out more.
Nix and the Spartans reaped the benefits against Indiana, avoiding their first four-game losing streak in four years.
“The big boy should be unstoppable,” teammate Draymond Green said.
Michigan State (13-8, 5-4) fell out of The Associated Press poll for a second time on Monday, plummeting from being ranked No. 2 in the preseason.
The Spartans’ chances of turning around their season enough to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament for the 14th straight year might hinge on Nix’s ability to control his weight and contribute on the court.
“It would be a major plus for us,” Izzo acknowledged.
Seniors Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers will certainly have to lead the way, Green and Delvon Roe are key juniors without a doubt, but Nix can potentially give the Spartans something no one else on the roster is able to this season.
He gives the team a low-post presence on both ends of the court and Izzo said his basketball IQ ranks among his top few players, allowing him to make passes and set screens to win games.
What the Spartans want to “see is his conditioning grow and his weight not grow,” Izzo said. “He’s just a better player when he’s in shape. I don’t know if it’s insulting, nor do I really care. It’s the truth.
“If he was playing like he was at the end of the summer, we’d have a pretty good player.”
Izzo recalled asking Nix, who also had problems with his weight during last season, asking what he should say to reporters after his breakout game against the Hoosiers.
“I said ‘Well, I told them two times you were going to be back on track and there have been some letdowns, so I look like an idiot,”‘ Izzo said he told Nix after the game. “He said, ‘I’m ready to go.”‘
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