1: That White Hot Start
Michigan State hasn’t made a habit of starting games on the right foot this year, and this 9 PM tip and late arriving crowd made it feel like that might be the case again
Instead, that changed in a big way at home against Maryland. The Spartans started less than ten seconds into play, with Joey Hauser kicking off the scoring with a short jumper, where he was fouled by Jahmir Young, and finished the three point play. On the next MSU possession, Tyson Walker nailed a three and the onslaught continued until the Spartans led 15-0 just prior to the 16 minute mark. The crowd was loud, the team was energized, and a near must-win was looking like a near sure thing.
2: Those Ice Cold Droughts
As hot as the opening four minutes were for MSU, there were other stretches that were equally frigid. After the offensive barrage to open the game, MSU went 6:38 without scoring a field goal. Maryland only managed 8 points in that particular drought, as they were as cold offensively as MSU was hot to open the game. At the half, MSU led 31-22, and their cold stretch was minimally damaging. The second half, however, was another story - a stretch that Tom Izzo could only call “disgusting.”
In the first half, Maryland bailed MSU out as they were completely unable to capitalize on MSU’s struggles. In the second half, Maryland went on its own 14-0 scoring run in the middle of a more than 3 minute scoring drought for MSU. In the middle portion of the second half, the Terps took the lead and the two teams traded that lead back and forth several times until MSU took the game back, taking momentum back with a huge Jaden Akins 3 from the corner with 8:20 left in the game. The constant ups and downs were the story of the game, and every time the Spartans showed signs of revitalization, the crowd fed the energy right back to them.
3: Tyson Walker, the fouls, and the offense
Joey Hauser led the scoring tonight, but if this were a hockey game, Tyson Walker would have been my #1 star. Walker picked up an early foul, one that Tom Izzo didn’t shy away from calling dumb, then with 7:07 left in the first half, Walker picked up his second foul. Izzo, as is customary, benched Walker for the rest of the half, trying to save him for the second half as much as possible. In doing so, the gears of the MSU offense were ground to a halt. Walker’s presence was necessary, and his absence was crushing against Maryland. In the 7 minutes Walker sat at the end of the half, MSU scored 10 points, 6 of which came from Joey Hauser three pointers.
The night and day difference between the offense with Walker on the floor and the offense with him on the bench was unbelievably stark. Pierre Brooks saw some minutes in Walker’s absence, and he’s still struggling in every phase. In his postgame comments, Izzo defended his decision to sit Walker for the final 7:07, saying that he couldn’t keep Walker on the floor while defending Maryland’s best player, because that third foul could come at any moment. The officiating tonight wasn’t notably bad, but it seemed more unpredictable than usual. Regardless, the five foul limit gives college basketball players and coaches zero wiggle room and turns important games into officiating exhibitions.
4: That AJ Hoggard One and One
AJ Hoggard’s stat line was solid, as he finished with 8 points, 8 assists, and 10 rebounds, but nobody on the floor had a bigger 2 points than Hoggard’s free throws with 22.9 seconds left to play. After Maryland’s Julian Reese missed a free throw
With this miss, Maryland trails by 2. Timeout Spartans, 24.7 seconds left in regulation pic.twitter.com/wCsFP3WOiz— Andy Welch (@AndrewMWelch) February 8, 2023
Hoggard was fouled by Jahmir Young, and went to the line for a one and one. The atmosphere at Breslin was very up and down over the course of the hot and cold stretches from MSU, but as Hoggard stood at the free throw line with a 2 point Spartan lead, there was a palpable tightness in the air as the junior guard had a chance to put the game out of reach. Hoggard’s first shot went through, and he nailed the bonus free throw as well, giving MSU a much safer 4 point lead that ended up being enough. The exciting, chaotic frenzy just before time expired that featured a decisive Jaden Akins dunk was purely academic, because of Hoggard’s poise at the line. That said, Akins’ dunk was a powerful exclamation point that sent the crowd home on a high. When reflecting on the game in his postgame comments, Tom Izzo said “there’s only one thing that matters - that you finish the job,” and down the stretch in the Big Ten, that really is the only thing that matters.