No. 10 Michigan State walked out of Wednesday afternoon’s men’s basketball contest in the Breslin Center with a win against a feisty High Point team, by a final score of 81-68, but it didn’t come easy.
Coming in, High Point was one of Michigan State’s lowest-rated NCAA opponents, at No. 256 overall, according to KenPom. If you watched the game, it didn’t look that way. At halftime, Michigan State was down 35-34, as High Point had just secured its first lead of the night.
“I’m totally disappointed with our effort,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said following the game. “That doesn’t happen very often for me. “Your top-10 team, we weren’t a top-50 team tonight.”
Maybe the definition of a “trap game,” MSU was down a few key players after positive COVID-19 tests, including Marcus Bingham Jr., who is the team’s rebound-leader (8.0 per game) and second on the team in points (10.8 per game), and star freshman Max Christie, among others. Christie has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times this season.
“We missed him today,” Izzo said of Christie. “He’s probably been my best defender, and I don’t know how because that’s supposedly his weakness.”
Izzo mentioned they missed Bingham as well, saying he’s a key shot blocker inside. Bingham averages 3.08 blocks per game this season, the most for the Spartans. No other player averages more than one per game.
High Point was 12-for-24 from beyond the arc in Wednesday’s game against the Spartans. Coming in, the Panthers were shooting 37 percent in three-pointers this season. It’s a stat-line that fans didn’t want to see. Perhaps it was High Point sophomore Bryson Childress who stole the show early on.
Childress, who stands 5-foot-8, was 4-for-5 in three-point shots and in field goals. His 12 points was second-best on High Point, second to only Jaden House (18). High Point head coach Tubby Smith added that Childress’ ability to make two deep three-point shots early on set the team up for an impressive night.
Perhaps the star of the night was none other than Joey Hauser, who had 17 points in Wednesday’s game. It was his season-high for him.
“I was really proud of him. He came back (from Christmas break) and thought he had COVID...and didn’t,” Izzo mentioned. “Of all the guys that came back, he came back with the right mindset...I’m happy for him, I’m not going to raise a banner yet, but I am going to say that when you can do it offensively, defensively, rebounding the ball, making free throws, making passes, making plays very efficient — that’s the Joey Hauser...it’s fun to watch him play.”
He adds that it wasn’t a “historic” night for Hauser, but it was very efficient. He was 5-for-8 from the field, 3-for-5 beyond the arc, and 4-for-4 in free throws.
Gabe Brown also seemed to have stepped up for Michigan State, scoring a career-high 24 points in Wednesday’s game. After a tough first half, he really exploded in the second half.
Brown was not very efficient in the first half: 2-for-9 in field goals and 2-for-6 from three-point range, for a total of six points. In the second half, however, he was on fire, going 5-for-8 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range, including three consecutive deep three-pointers that made the Breslin Center the loudest it was all game.
“I told him his shot was flat,” Izzo said he of Brown’s first-half performance. “Now he’s high on the scouting report and he’s going to have to adjust to that.
To cap things off, Izzo warns against viewing Michigan State as a top-10 team: “Don’t put us in any top-10 because we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Spartans hope to have a better performance against Northwestern on the road before heading back to East Lansing to host Nebraska next week. Michigan State will head to Evanston, Illinois this weekend to play the Wildcats for a Big Ten matchup. The game is on Sunday, Jan. 2, and will air on Big Ten Network at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.