There were two interesting developments that happened before the Spartans 76-61 win against Indiana on Saturday.
The first being AJ Hoggard getting his first start of the season in place of Tyson Walker. Walker had been Michigan State’s starting point guard for all 23 games this season, but the demotion did not seem to phase him. He may have turned the ball over twice, but the transfer guard’s intensity on the defensive side of the ball, and clutch three point shooting, allowed the Spartans to pull away in the second half. Instead of assuming his usual role of being a facilitator, Walker intently hunted down open shots. 15 points on 5/10 shooting marks the juniors most efficient outing in weeks.
AJ Hoggard relished in his new role as a starter in this one. The lasting image he had in this contest will be picking up his second technical foul for apparently clapping in the face of an Indiana player. Hoggard was one of a handful of Spartans that were seen chirping at the opponent on Saturday, but his play also did some talking. Consistency has been the biggest struggle for the sophomore guard this year. Having just 12 points in his last three games combined, Hoggard messed around and dropped 14 on the Hoosiers. He has the potential to impact games in more ways than just bringing the ball up the floor. This win is a prime example of that.
Sophomore AJ Hoggard was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this season and the ninth time in his career. In 21 minutes he scored 14 points which is the most he has ever recorded against a conference opponent.
The second pregame development was the announcement that Bo Boroski would be one of the three officials. Not going to make any judgements on the way he calls games, but whenever in the Breslin Center, his whistle gets a lot of work. However, an argument could be made that the officiating benefited Michigan State in this contest. 25 made free throws on 28 attempts not only angered Indiana head coach Mike Woodson multiple times, but kept the Spartans afloat.
The one thing the refs did not have a say in was the physicality and toughness. Two things this MSU team hasn’t necessarily done well this season, is what got them the win. And they will have to make it a trend as the month of February winds down. More battles like this lie ahead, and how they handle it will be the determining factor of where they end up this postseason.
Missing: Gabe Brown
Michigan State closed the door on Indiana by ending the game on a 25-7 scoring run. What is intriguing is they did it all with Gabe Brown sitting on the bench. With 9 minutes remaining in the second half, Brown picked up his fourth foul, had an argument with Tom Izzo, and then took a seat. Not to mention he scored zero points on 0/4 shooting. The senior captain just hasn’t looked the same since mid-January. After dropping 20 points at Rutgers last weekend, it seemed as though he was back to full form. But even in winning fashion, it is concerning when the leader of a team falls silent.
The last time Gabe Brown was held scoreless as a Michigan State starter was February 2020. Shooting just 42% from the field in his last 5 games, Brown seems to be forcing his shot. Three point shooting is definitely his strong suit, but the one’s he takes are often contested, and he rarely drives to the basket anymore.
In Hall We Trust
Not to fear however, because with the disappearance of one player comes the emergence of another. Malik Hall is putting himself on the radar of Big Ten teams everywhere. It was apparent the Hoosiers studied the tape on him when they took away his favorite turn around jump shot in the short corner on an early possession. But the maturity of the junior forward shined through as he was able to produce for his team in a variety of ways. Even shooting from behind the backboard was in his arsenal on Saturday.
Hall led the Spartans in the points column with 18, marking his highest output in conference play. The leap he has made from his sophomore to junior years has been remarkable. Last season you could rely on him to play defense and grab some tough rebounds. In 2022 however, his confidence is at an all time high and he is slowly becoming a go-to scorer. As a result, it seems as if the entire MSU fan base is pleading for him to become a starter.
Don’t expect Tom Izzo to start him any time soon, because quite frankly some players just perform better off the bench. Hall has developed a creativeness to get himself open for jumpers. He is smart when the ball is in his hands and active when it isn’t. The 6’7″ frame he possesses makes him big enough to post up down low, yet still be athletic enough to be a threat in open space. Malik Hall could very well be an X-factor for this squad going forward. He just needs to focus on what many of his teammates have struggled with. Consistency.
Winning in the Big Ten isn’t pretty
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was gritty,” said Tom Izzo after the Spartans 11th double digit victory of the season. That is a perfect summary of what winning in the most competitive conference in college basketball looks like. A win is a win in any league, but in the Big Ten it means that much more. In college basketball you can dig yourself out of a hole as fast as you dig yourself in it. And that might just be what MSU has done by beating the Hoosiers.
“I am very proud in how we played with the energy level,” said Izzo.
One week ago Michigan State suffered an embarrassment to Rutgers. Their effort was lacking to say the least. Now it is as though the script has been completely flipped. Even through 45 total foul calls, 15 turnovers, and 43% field goal shooting, the Spartans won today because of their toughness. Especially with key contributors like Gabe Brown, and in a lesser case Max Christie, going through a rough patch, it will be crucial for MSU to play with high energy down the stretch of this season.
Only seven more games lie between this team and the Big Ten tournament. That is seven more chances to bolster their tournament resume. But also seven more occasions that could potentially derail this campaign. If the Spartans play with the amount of effort they had today, figure out a way to get the best out of their best players, and compete for the entirety of games, they can make sure the latter doesn’t come true.
Follow Alex Mayer on Twitter for more MSU Athletics content; @almay_99