After losing three of their last four games, including their first two Big Ten contests, there was a sense (at least among some of TOC Nation) that MSU’s season could turn into one of the worst seasons that Spartans basketball had had in a while. There were even murmurings of the NCAA Tournament streak being in danger. And to make things even more bleak, MSU was looking at a game against the #6 ranked and undefeated Baylor Bears. The prospect of another loss and a 4-6 record, not to mention a resume with no significant non-con wins, was very much on the table. I mean, even BBD predicted Baylor to win 86-62.
And then Saturday afternoon happened. On a neutral court, albeit one that had a significant majority of State fans in the arena, Michigan State completely controlled Baylor from the first possession until the final buzzer. They took the lead in the opening minute, and Baylor never even tied it. Throughout the first half, MSU just continued to stretch its lead, growing it to as large as 30 with about a minute to go and having a 28-point advantage at halftime. The entirety of the second half was played with the comfort of at least a 20-point cushion, and the game ended with a score of 88-64.
This game was more than just the large margin of victory. This was the game we have waited for, where we see the backcourt of AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker both dominate a game. Walker, as he often does, led all scorers with 25 points. Hoggard had a stat line of 14 points, five assists, and three steals. But it was bigger than that. Offensively, he was aggressive and was regularly dribbling into the lane with authority. Defensively, he was slapping at the ball and regularly creating loose ball scenarios.
There was even something more important that I saw in this game (from my spot on the floor right behind the basket where MSU was shooting in the 2nd half). Oh look, I got on TV!
Remember some of you, correctly, stating in previous comment sections that this team did not appear to be enjoying playing with one another? That was certainly true, but losing will do that to a team. In this game, even from the opening possessions, I saw energy. I saw smiles. I saw communication and encouragement and high fives and court slapping. At the instances when the crowd would rise to show their adulation, the players were egging them on, asking them to be louder. When chants of “We want Steven” started even before the last TV timeout, Hoggard was conducting the crowd to keep it up. Funny story about that. At one instant, with that chant echoing throughout Little Caesars Arena and all eyes on the coach’s son at the end of the bench, Steven rose from his seat and took a couple steps toward midcourt as he pretended to start taking off his warmup shirt before flashing a smile and backtracking into his chair. All his teammates on the bench and the fans in the stands nearby were cracking up.
While we are on the topic of Steven, when he collected that rebound and was immediately fouled, that may have been the loudest moment of the game in LCA. I would have been the closest non-player/non-ref person had he gotten his first career point during the ensuing FTAs, and I probably would have reacted in a manner that would have gotten me ejected (there is a code of conduct for media that I personally find ridiculous). But don’t worry, I feel very confident that at some point during the next three games - home games against Oakland, Stony Brook, and Indiana State - he will get those elusive first points.
Now the question for the Spartans becomes was the victory over Baylor the turning point of the season. Will this team become the national title contender we all assumed they would be? I think we will get some of that answer in these final three non-conference games. If MSU can dominate those games like they did the Baylor game, and maybe even more so as they are playing presumably less talented teams, then maybe we can say that we are seeing the real version of who this team can be.
For your enjoyment, here are some photos of Saturday’s action. I did not capture Carr’s dunk as that was at the far end of the court and I couldn’t get my camera focused on it. But the photo I used as the cover for this article was the play where Carr had one of the six blocks that MSU had on the day (to Baylor’s zero).
Hoggard pushing early.
Izzo not happy with Hall during an early timeout.
Izzo complaining about a non-call early in the game where the Baylor player reached around a Spartan for a loose ball.
1st half domination!
In the press conference after the game, Izzo said he was mad at Walker because he did not know he could jump that high.
Look at Fears and Holloman in the background.
The team celebrating Steven Izzo getting a rebound, getting fouled, and going to the line.
Apparently this game was being played for a cup.
I don’t know what is going on in this celebration, but it’s funny.
One last note on my experience at the game Saturday. In the press conference afterwards, I asked Izzo what the atmosphere was like in practice in the week leading up to this game. I was wondering if the team was pissed off or if they were depressed or maybe they were extra focused as a result of the recent losses. Izzo did not like this question. His response mentioned “blow horns” and “party hats” and he said “we celebrated” before finishing with a “what the hell do you think it was like?” as he gave me a death stare. I had a smile on my face. This was my moment of validation. I felt officially a part of the media having been roasted by a head coach in a press conference. But I did feel the need to redeem myself, so I came back with the only improved question I could think of. “Did they practice better?” Coach said they did. A few minutes later, after the press conference, I found myself waiting for an elevator up from the basement of LCA with Carson Cooper, so I asked him some questions too. He did say that there was a sense of urgency during the past week of practices, and he said that he was even a bit surprised by how well they played that day.
Let’s hope this is the version of the team we get from now on and we don’t have any more surprises.
VICTORY FOR MSU!
Lastly, I haven’t done this in a few weeks but we got something worthy of reviving it.
Congrats stormhawk27. You are this week’s TOC Reader of the Week. I just wish I could have gotten this screenshot at the exact moment the gif showed that poor punter getting his bell rung.