The sting of the one-point Purdue loss still has not worn off, but life in the Big Ten does not allow you time to dwell on things. Maybe that is a good thing. MSU welcomed Rutgers to East Lansing looking to right the ship. Rutgers, on the other hand, has climbed into the top 25 for the first time this season by winning 7 of their last 8 including handing Purdue their only loss. So MSU definitely was going to have to play well to get this win.
Game Flow Highlights
I feel like a lot of my game recaps have similar beginnings, with MSU being slow to get into the flow of the game and getting into a little bit of an early hole. And this game felt like it may have been the worst start to a game we’ve seen all year. After losing the opening tip, we saw the typical early struggles from the Spartan offense - turnovers, missed shots, failed alley-oop attempt. But what made this start worse than usual was what was happening on the defensive end. Rutgers scored on 5 of their first 8 possessions, 3 of which were uncontested dunks or layups. Rutgers was getting free in the lane with regularity, and Izzo pulled Mady early in this one to insert Jaxon Kohler. Kohler would reward his coach quickly with a bucket inside to make the deficit 11-5 at the first break. What happened the rest of the way, no one could have predicted.
After a couple nice plays by Tre Holloman - an assist on a Walker triple and then a driving layup - Kohler went back to work down low, scoring on two consecutive trips to further chip away at Rutgers’ lead, and it was just a 2-point game at the second break.
Coming back from the commercial, AJ Hoggard got in the scoring column with a deep 3 to give MSU their first lead, but the Spartans gave it right back to the Scarlet Knights. For a few minutes after this, it seemed like the only Spartan who could do anything positive was Tyson Walker, who recorded 3 steals in this stretch of play. Everyone else was just there to miss shots and rebound opportunities, leading to Sissoko getting pulled for Kohler for the second time. Rutgers padded their lead, but Walker’s 3rd steal led to a breakaway and an &1 at the under-8 whistle to pull MSU back to within 2.
In the final 7 minutes of the half, the rim got a little bigger for the home team, with 6 FGs made, including 4 triples by 4 different players and a running floater by Pierre Brooks for his first points in 5 games. However, Rutgers was racking up the offensive rebounds including two straight possessions with two on each trip, leading to fouls on MSU and second chance points to keep MSU’s offensive barrage from blowing the game open. But just like that, MSU went to the locker room up by 6. The Spartans had 7 1st half 3s, but only had 1 FTA and gave up 10 offensive rebounds.
Rutgers had the ball to start the second half, and their first possession seemed like a microcosm of all their possessions of the first half as they got 5 FGAs and drew a foul against MSU before finally getting a dunk from their big man, Clifford Omoruyi. And… Sissoko was taken out of the game. It didn’t take Kohler long to continue his impressive offensive performance as he scored another bucket down low and he even gave the crowd a mean mug as he hustled back down the court… where he promptly gave up a layup. A couple possessions later, perhaps feeling overconfident, Kohler put up a three from the top of the key. It was a decent looking shot, but it would not stay down for the freshman. A couple MSU turnovers allowed Rutgers to stay within 4 at the first TV timeout of the 2nd.
After the commercial, Mady was back in the game and he wasted no time getting his first points (and his last), which would also be MSU’s first 2nd chance points of the game. Rutgers would get some more offensive rebounds and 2nd chance points of their own. Then Jaden Akins picked Paul Mulcahy’s pocket and took it the other way for the flush to put the lead back to 4 and make Rutgers call a timeout.
After the timeout, Jaxon Kohler scored again to get to double digits for the first time in his collegiate career. After a quick defensive stop, AJ Hoggard buried another triple to get to double digits himself. Back on defense, Tre Holloman slapped the floor; I was just talking to a friend yesterday about how I don’t know if we had seen a floor slap all season (please correct me if I am wrong). The teams traded a couple baskets, but the Spartans led by 8 at the under-8.
(Edit: Dersh has correctly pointed out that it was Kohler’s 2nd game reaching double digits)
Each team only scored one basket in the next four minutes, so the lead remained at 8 as we reached the final segment of the game. Just like the end of the first half, the end of the game saw a barrage of triples by MSU, with Hauser, Walker, and Akins each hitting one. The final bucket of the game came with 12 seconds left when Rutgers’ 47% 3-point shooter Cam Spencer finally made a triple; he was 0-7 previously. MSU gets their B1G record to 5-3 with their 70-57 victory. MSU went an amazing 12-22 from deep and had assists on 19 of their 26 made FGs. What prevented this from being an even bigger margin of victory was Rutgers dominance on the boards including their 18-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
I think Rutgers may have been exposed a bit tonight as a team unworthy of being ranked. I say this because, aside from being on fire from 3-point land, this was not all that great of an MSU performance, and it still ended up in a double-digit win. Neither team really excelled at what they do best; Rutgers were not able to get MSU to turn the ball over more than their season average, and MSU has maybe never looked worse on the glass. It was not just Rutgers players out-jumping the Spartan bigs. There were several instances where a rebound went through the hands of Sissoko or Kohler or Akins (I am probably leaving out a name or two) and ended up with the road team. Also, Rutgers’ best shooter, who is one of the best in the nation percentagewise, was ice-cold tonight. Most of his shots were contested so credit the MSU defense there. If MSU can continue to disrupt opponents’ best shooters and figure out their rebounding woes, they may just be a force come tourney time after all.
3 Things I liked:
- Kohler. How can I not start with him? His first time reaching ten points or ten rebounds. He finished with 12 and 11, not to mention 3 blocks and only 1 foul in 23 minutes of play. You could make a case that he was the best player for the Green & White tonight. (Donaldo, does a double-double earn him 4 scoops?) And you know what, it would not surprise me to see him inserted into the starting lineup in the very near future. More on that later.
- 3 Point shooting. Kind of felt like the old Nintendo game NBA Jam. “He’s on fire!” 4 MSU players - Hoggard, Walker, Akins, and Hauser - each hit 3 triples and each shot at least 50% from 3. That kind of shooting performance will make most teams tough to beat.
- The Freshmen. I know I already mentioned Kohler, but I am going to double up on him here along with mentioning his classmates Holloman and Cooper. There was one short stretch where all three were on the court together, and that brought a smile to my face, the fact that Izzo is confident enough in their collective development to have them all in together. Holloman displayed a more assertive version of himself tonight, playing tough defense and attacking the basket with the ball on offense. Yes, he only had 1 basket, but he contributed 3 assists while playing the PG spot against only one turnover. And again, I want to commend his floor slap right about the time when it felt like MSU was beginning to put clamps on this game, even if none of his teammates followed suit. And Cooper, while quiet offensively tonight, did his usual good enough job disrupting opponents in the low post and collecting a couple stats.
3 Things I Did Not Like:
- Mady Sissoko. This one pains me to write, but his regression continues since his incredible performances against ‘Zaga and ‘Tucky. I think there may be something with his vision, and I don’t say that as a joke. Some of his whiffs when trying to grab rebounds or catch passes in the paint are very odd, and his shots from the low post that commonly have way too much on them and wildly go completely over the rim are equally perplexing. I can’t think of any other explanations other than he is not seeing objects on the court clearly. Whatever it is, if his play does not pick up soon, he may just see himself out of the starting lineup. And it would not surprise me one bit if Izzo has already made that decision for the next game.
- Jason Whitens having to play. Even with the absence of Malik Hall, there are 9 players on the team who should be able to give meaningful minutes. The fact that Izzo had to bring in #43 tonight means that there were enough players on his roster whose effort and performance he found unacceptable that he had to dig deeper into the bench than normal. Anyone who saw the early parts of this game would probably have come to the same conclusion.
- Well, MSU had a double-digit lead with 2 minutes to go, and that should have been a comfortable enough margin for some of the deep bench to come in. So that is my 3rd dislike, no Steven Izzo appearance. About half of you predicted he would score a point this year in yesterday’s survey, so we need to get him as many opportunities as possible.
On the road for a Sunday Nooner at Indiana.