On Feb. 21, thousands of fans swarmed the entrances of the Jack Breslin Student Event Center to watch the Michigan State University Spartans play basketball. Despite it being a Tuesday night, the arena was sold out, the Izzone was loud, and Tom Izzo’s team was ready to play a solid game of ball. But something was different in the atmosphere.
This was the first basketball game played on campus since the tragic events of Feb. 13. After a week of mourning the losses of Ariella Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner, as well asand trying to figure out what the new normal on campus was going to be, MSU fans from all over the state gathered for this special event.
With all the national coverage focused on MSU, our campus felt overrun with strangers and news crews. Although the amount of love and support from people was incredible some students felt overwhelmed and exposed.
Sophomore Izzone member Matt Merrifield spends most of his basketball season at the Breslin Center, whether it’s cheering on the men’s team from the front row or covering the women’s team courtside.
“Being able to go back to the Breslin to watch basketball gave me a sense of normalcy that I hadn’t felt since before the shooting,” said Merrifield. “It was pretty emotional seeing so many people together at the Breslin. There was a strange sense of unity between everyone, especially in the Izzone.”
The game for many people was a way to escape reality, even if it was just for a few hours. Normalcy was a common theme among attendees. Seeing the community come together and be able let loose and celebrate a wein after such a solemn week was special to see.
“The game vs Indiana was so emotionally positive,” MSU sophomore Reid Davison said. “Being back with all the MSU students in the Izzone was great for the community and helped everyone gain a sense of normality that hadn’t been present in a long while. Especially after the win… everyone was just so happy to be back.”
The victory was a source of healing for many students and alumni. Being able to witness the positive energy from fans was a way to show that as a university we will all heal together, and things will eventually be ok.
To many Spartans, healing includes watching Tom Izzo leading his team to victory. Izzo is not just a coach, but a symbol of MSU. As someone who often speaks at events representing the university, he knows how to get a crowd to listen. On Feb. 15, MSU held a candlelit vigil to give thousands of community members the opportunity to honor the victims. Izzo was a key speaker at this event and said exactly what Spartan fans needed to hear.
“I feel like Michigan State, my 40th year here. I don’t like the place. I don’t love the place. I live the place,” Izzo stated early on in his speech to a captivating crowd. “Michigan State is my home […] I’ve seen some incredible highs. And yes, unfortunately, there have been some devastating lows. But as a Spartan we always get through it. Together we are Spartan tough, Spartan strong.”
Izzo’s words hit home for countless people who attended the vigil in person, watched the live stream, or saw clips of it on news broadcasts all over the nation. His sentiments inspired Spartan Nation, and the Breslin on Tuesday night showed that.
In his opening statement at the post-game press conference Izzo stated “Everyone did one hell of a job. Most of all, the fans, the students, and the community. It wasn’t a 9 o’clock crowd game. It wasn’t a 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night crowd. The fans were unbelievable.” Izzo then went on to share with the media how he wanted to do everything for MSU’s student body.
“I thought, here’s one two-hour period where maybe they forget about all the things that they’ve had to deal with, and they got a chance to enjoy. That’s what sports sometimes can do. It doesn’t take away all the pain, but it’s like a little Aspirin, maybe for a couple hours,” said Izzo. “I just kept looking up at that top row. Al McGuire once said ‘When the corners in an arena are filled, you’re ok, you’re good.”
For everyone inside the walls of the Breslin Center: the students, parents, alumni, players, coaches, and casual fans, all was ok for a few hours. It was an escape, and what was happening outside those walls didn’t matter.