Michigan State defeated High Point by a final score of 81 to 68 in a frustrating performance on Wednesday afternoon. MSU was shorthanded for the game, missing Max Christie, Marcus Bingham Jr., Pierre Brooks II and Steven Izzo. After a lackadaisical first 28 minutes of the game, the Spartans found their spirit and benefited from strong overall games from Gabe Brown, Joey Hauser, Malik Hall and A.J. Hoggard.
Story of the game
After a frigid start — it took Michigan State about four minutes to finally get on the board —the Spartans appeared to wake up a bit as they led the game through most of the first half. Despite their tenuous lead, the disastrous interior defense from Julius Marble, Joey Hauser and Mady Sissoko ensured that the Panthers got whatever points they wanted to inside the three-point arc. More importantly, the Spartans failed to contest High Point’s three-point shooters effectively, letting Jaden House and “three-point-shots-only’ Bryson Childress convert five of six shots from three-point range.
On offense, the first half was just as frustrating, sloppy and embarrassing. The Spartans missed a front-end of a one-and-one free throw, missed two additional free throws, and missed eight of 12 three-point shots (many of them wide-open), and about a dozen straightforward shots around the paint. Michigan State finished the half down one point, as High Point led 35-34 at the break.
In the second half, lone bright-spot from the first half, Joey Hauser — who finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three assists — continued his strong play. Hauser hit shots, made plays and continued to pass the ball to guys in their shooting pockets. Building off of Hauser’s strong game to carry the Spartans while they were struggling, Gabe Brown and Malik Hall came alive in the second half. A.J. Hoggard assisted on many buckets (he finished with 10 points and eight assists), Brown set a new career high with 24 points along with seven rebounds and Hall helped pace the Spartans with 13 points, three rebounds and five assists.
With about seven minutes left in the game, the Spartans went on a run with Brown and Hall taking turns hitting big shots. After the Panthers tied the game at 56, Tyson Walker hit a big three-point shot. Over the next four minutes of game time, Brown and Hall went on a 15-7 run, pushing the lead to nine points. After that game-turning run, the Spartans did not let the Panthers back into the game, and cruised to the final margin of 13 points.
To be blunt, this was an abomination of a performance. The defense was atrocious (particularly from Julius Marble, Mady Sissoko, and, in the second half, A.J. Hoggard), the team missed a LOT of shots at the rim (four layups and two dunks), and lacked energy for about 75 percent of the game. Tom Izzo will have to really jump start the team mentally if the Spartans are going to hope to continue their undefeated start to conference play. Northwestern is a VERY good team that has gotten healthier than it was earlier in the season. If Marcus Bingham Jr. and Max Christie can return to the floor, and play as they had been before their COVID pause, then the Spartans should be favored, but Boo Buie, Chase Audige, Pete Nance and Ty Berry are a terrific group, with outstanding complementary pieces. Northwestern should be an NCAA Tournament team, and the Spartans should expect a major test on the road in Evanston on Sunday.