After what happened last Sunday in West Lafayette, this 6 day break was pretty necessary for the Spartans, who were outmatched by the best team in the nation 77-61. Now, MSU travels to New York City for a rematch with Rutgers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.
As I made sure to say before they played each other barely two weeks ago, Rutgers basketball is pretty good. The Spartans’ 13 point win against Rutgers at the Breslin Center was one of the high points of the season. The Scarlet Knights are still the only team to take Purdue down. Rutgers is 2-1 since the two teams met last, with their lone loss in Iowa City to the Hawkeyes. On Wednesday, the Scarlet Knights scored 90 points against Minnesota, and the next day, coach Steve Pikiell’s contract was extended through 2031. Rutgers basketball is cooking with gas.
Michigan State is 1-2 since the last matchup with Rutgers, nursing lopsided losses against both teams from Indiana. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Zach Edey had tremendous games, dominating MSU and rendering just about any defensive gameplan toothless. MSU did beat Iowa at home in a dramatic 63-61 showing, which featured the return of Malik Hall, who scored 11 points off the bench.
In the first game between MSU and Rutgers, MSU was red hot from deep, shooting 54.5%. Scoring was balanced, as five players were in double figures, including Jaxon Kohler, who added 12. Kohler had, so far, his best career game, with 11 rebounds in addition to those 12 points. AJ Hoggard led the scoring with 16 points.
For Rutgers, Paul Mulcahy and Clifford Omoruyi led the scoring with 12 points a piece. Omoruyi was a challenge for MSU’s Mady Sissoko, who finished with 2 points, 1 block, and 4 rebounds. On Saturday, this matchup will be, as has usually been the case with this team, the big story. Jaxon Kohler seemingly came from nowhere to have his career day, and he will not be sneaking up on anyone at Madison Square Garden. Will Sissoko be able to counter Omoruyi, or will that task fall to Kohler or Carson Cooper off the bench?
It’s a safe bet to say that MSU won’t be able to match their earlier performance from deep, but they will be at full health, unlike the first matchup. Malik Hall will be available, and Jaden Akins has found his groove after being slowed early in the season with lingering effects from the foot injury he suffered in the offseason.
The big story though, is the venue. No, not because of the mystique of Madison Square Garden, which just feels overrated and overstated, but because Rutgers somehow gave up a home game on campus to play in New York City.
The RAC (I just can’t do Jersey Mike’s Arena, not for that venue) is a really difficult place to play, especially with there being legitimate buzz around the Rutgers program. MSG will attract MSU alums and fans from the east coast, drowning out whatever buzz the Rutgers fans will be bringing from over in New Jersey.
If this game were being played in Piscataway, Rutgers probably wins by 6-10 points. At MSG? The home court advantage is mostly neutered. MSU has had a difficult time at MSG, but this isn’t UConn or Georgetown (good Georgetown, not whatever this year’s Georgetown is). This is Big Ten play, and MSU takes advantage of familiarity and health, and wins a nailbiter.