Now that was the kind of performance this Michigan State basketball team badly needed. After getting off to an 0-3 start in conference play and snagging an ugly win at Nebraska over the weekend, the Spartans were still searching for an identity. They may have found on on Tuesday night.
MSU turned in their best defensive effort of the season holding Rutgers to 30.5 percent shooting overall and just 25 percent from three-point range in a 68-45 win at Breslin Center.
Aaron Henry led the way for MSU in more ways than one. His 20 points were a game-high and he also added eight rebounds. Henry was also all over the floor defensively, making things difficult for any Rutgers player he was guarding. He also picked up two steals and had a team-high four blocks.
Defensively it was just a fantastic performance tonight by MSU. Rutgers had been one of the better scoring teams in the conference, shooting over 43 percent from three in conference play. At the half, the Scarlet Knights did not making a single shot on nine attempts from three, and finished the game with just three makes from deep on 12 attempts (25 percent).
Malik Hall and Thomas Kithier did a great job defending Ron Harper Jr. who finished with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, well below his season average.
Michigan State controlled the game most of the way, but were plagued by turnovers throughout the first half, which kept things close. The Spartans were able to limit those mistakes in the second half, and as a result, pulled away to the comfortable win.
It was a balanced attack behind Henry for the Spartans. Rocket Watts and Josh Langford both struggled in the first half, but had strong second halves to finish with 11 points each. Joey Hauser added in nine points and a team high 14 rebounds.
Also of note was the point guard play of A.J. Hoggard. The freshman got the start once again and played 25 minutes and scored three points and led the team with six assists. While the numbers weren’t earth shattering, the play of the Spartans was noticeably better when Hoggard was running the offense. That showed up in the plus/minus stats where Hoggard was a plus-26 for the game.
Michigan State will try to keep the winning streak going on Friday when the Spartans host Purdue. A win can get the Spartans back to .500 in this incredibly tough Big Ten, which would be a pretty big step after that disastrous start to the conference slate.
We know that playing tough defense is something Michigan State basketball is built around, and it hasn’t been enough of their personality this season. However, if MSU plays like it did tonight, it is going to be tough for anyone to beat them. Let’s hope they did find that Spartan toughness tonight, and it will carry over the rest of the Big Ten season and beyond.