The last three Saturday afternoons this February have featured vitally important basketball games at the Breslin Center. This time around held a much happier ending for Spartans fans than the prior two. Tom Izzo tied the legendary Bob Knight for most victories at a single Big Ten School. What stole the show however, was the fashion in how he pulled it off. Michigan State, in typical Michigan State fashion, picked up a win they had no business winning, defeating Purdue 68-65.
Losers in 5 of their last 6 contests, the Spartans made it evident they were tired of coming up short. The effort on both sides of the floor was the best it had been in weeks. On defense, active hands by MSU guards forced turnovers and the bigs came up with crucial rebounds. On offense, AJ Hoggard was given options when coming off screens, and Max Christie played with a sense of confidence that had been eluding him for some time.
A Change for the Better
Changing the starting lineup also paid dividends for Tom Izzo. The energy and sense of urgency was apparent right from the jump thanks to the fresh faces of Malik Hall and Julius Marble. Marble has turned himself into one of the most efficient shooters in the conference and continued that trend against the Boilermakers. His 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting falls right in line with his 63% FG shooting this season. Not to mention, he was matched up with one of the tallest centers in the country all day.
Tom Izzo deserves applause for this win as well. He knew his team would give up paint points to Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey, but also knew how to counter. By forcing more turnovers than usual and keeping Purdue off the three point line, Michigan State kept themselves in contention for a full 40 minutes. They had as many makes from behind the long line as their opponent had attempts and for the first time since the 1st of February, did not lose in the turnover category.
With 13 points on 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range, Gabe Brown led Michigan State in scoring for the first time in six outings, in what was his second to last home game as a Spartan.
The Spartans got big time performances from key players and their coach on Saturday. Pair the perfect game plan up with the right adjustments, and you get the outcome MSU had today. As a result, they feel a lot better about themselves heading into the final week of Big Ten play.
It is no secret that before today, Michigan State was in the midst of their typical mid-season lapse. It came a little later and lasted a lot longer than past years, but also potentially ends similar to last year.
In 2021, the Spartans entered the Big Ten tournament with three wins against AP Top 5 teams under their belt. Beating 4th ranked Purdue not only does wonders for this teams confidence moving forward, but washes away the slim chance of them missing the NCAA tournament. MSU doesn’t have any highly ranked teams left on their schedule to repeat what happened last season. However the intensity they brought to the table today was eerily similar to what Spartan fans saw last February.
The Boilermakers usually play their best basketball against Michigan State. Matt Painter had won the last four meetings with Tom Izzo. However the finish to todays game had an almost identical ending as a previous upset over Purdue. February 10th, 2018, featured this same matchup, which also concluded with a 68-65 final score. Miles Bridges hit a deep three pointer with one second remaining to win back then. Today, Tyson Walker did the very same (on the opposite wing) to give the Spartans their biggest win of the season.
Another thing these games all had in common was the timing. They all took place with the time of year that matters the most looming in the near future. March is just around the corner, and today, Michigan State showed that they are ready for the Big Dance.
So much of what MSU did to play their best against Purdue, is exactly what they need to replicate in this final stretch run. Multiple players stepped up, the ball was taken care of, and three pointers were made.
Gabe Brown didn’t make the mistakes Spartans fans were getting accustomed to seeing. His first shot was a good one, which gave him faith that he could make the next one. His almost patented back door alley-oop dunk made an appearance as well.
Confidence seemed to have been a theme with many players. If Max Christie continues to hunt for open shots and make them, he could sneak back into the Freshman of the Year conversation. If AJ Hoggard continues to show patience and intelligence, the offense will continue to open up as it did today. Malik Hall and Julius Marble starting and finishing games, with Marcus Bingham and Joey Hauser coming in situationally, will hopefully be just what this team needed to play at their full potential.
Tom Izzo knows how important getting the victory today was. He also knows how it will be even more crucial to keep the momentum going. Michigan, Ohio State, and Maryland round out the regular season, with all three games within six days of each other. By this time next weekend there will be a better idea of what we can expect from this team going into the postseason. But for now, Michigan State is feeling good about the product they put out, and it finally comes in the form of a win.