By Andrew Kahn
If Michigan State is to continue its magical Tournament run, it will need continued strong play from a 5’10” freshman from the Bahamas called “Tum Tum.” Yes, it’s been an unusual season for the Spartans, but they’ve wound up in a familiar place: the Final Four.
After a home loss to Illinois on Feb. 7, Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, Jr. was inserted into the starting lineup, where he’s been since. Michigan State is 12-3 during that span. He’s scored just seven points in the team’s four NCAA Tournament games, but to look at numbers alone is to miss his contributions.
“He does so much for our team that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” senior guard Travis Trice said after the win over Louisville sent Michigan State to the Final Four. “Like tonight, he helps break the press, he gets other guys involved. Tum’s also that energy guy. There are times [before or after practice] where guys are kind of tired and Tum’s there with all the energy and boosts everybody up. Tum does a lot of things for us that people really don’t see.”
Nairn has a noticeable bounce in his movements on the court and a confidence in his game, even if he’s not taking many shots. Against Louisville he was 1 of 3 from the field in 19 minutes. Early in the second half, he took the ball the length of the court, flipped it back to a teammate who declined to shoot underneath the basket, eventually got the ball back, and drove for a running floater over the outstretched arm of Louisville’s 6’10” center. Nairn spent some of the game guarding leading scorer Terry Rozier, who’d been playing great in the Tournament. Rozier scored just 13 points on shot 6 of 23 shooting on Sunday.
Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes has come off the bench and played more minutes than Nairn in the Tournament, mostly because of his outside shooting ability. But Nairn is partly responsible for Forbes’ improvement. Coach Tom Izzo said Nairn’s energy forced Forbes to elevate his game, particularly on the defensive end.
In the regional semifinal against Oklahoma, Nairn matched up with Buddy Hield, a fellow Bahamian and high school teammate at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas. “He lights up the room,” Hield said before the game. “He’s a fun kid to be around. You always want that teammate to get you riled up.”
Nairn’s first name comes from R&B singer Lou Rawls (his grandfather was a fan) and his nickname is inspired by a character from the film 3 Ninjas who, as Nairn did as a child, had a big appetite.
The 170-pound point guard is now hungry for an upset over Duke in Indianapolis. He’ll need to improve his shooting for next year—he shot 33 percent from the field, 52 percent from the line, and attempted only 10 threes this season—especially with the departure of the sharp-shooting Trice, but his defense and energy will be critical on Saturday.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.