No. 14 Michigan State swept Northwestern Wednesday night with a 79-50 victory over the Wildcats. Senior guard Cassius Winston lead the team with 18 points, but beyond Winston’s scoring, other parts of the MSU line-up shined.
Malik Hall dominates in first minutes of second career start
Waiting under the basket in the opening minutes, freshman forward Malik Hall found Winston’s pass midair, slamming it through and electrifying his second career start.
Hall has started in place of sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr. in MSU’s past two competitions. Against Northwestern Wednesday night, the Aurora, Illinois native came out hot, putting up six points and two boards in his first three minutes on the floor.
He didn’t put up a career high. In fact, those six points would be all that he would get, but the energy Hall brought from the starting second never died during his 17 total minutes.
“I’m just trying to bring some confidence and some energy when I step out there,” Hall said. “I think some other teams start off a little sluggish when they come out, but I’m just trying to go right for it and I think that’s helping a lot.”
Hall left the game with just under three minutes remaining in the second. Coach Tom Izzo said he sat with an ankle sprain.
Bingham earns Izzo’s ‘three star hockey puck’
In the places Hall struggled, sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr. shined.
The 6-foot-11 Grand Rapids native ended with seven points and seven rebounds in his second game coming off the bench.
“He was sat down for reasons and some of them were to see if we could get him going,” Izzo said. “He really responded. … I thought (he) really played well and under control.”
Bingham seemed more confident with his game as well.
“I feel like I played more aggressive,” Bingham Jr. said. “I played hard running the floor and doing the right stuff on defense. I’m just trying to get better every game.”
Bingham’s performance earned him Izzo’s biggest praise of the night. As the 25-year coach slammed the team’s lack of consistency and said he found it hard to enjoy the way the team played Wednesday night, he did mention Bingham as an “encouraging,” part of the matchup.
“Marcus got my three star or whatever they do in hockey,” Izzo said. “Maybe I’ll borrow a puck and give it to him tomorrow or something. He really did a good job today in just a lot of ways. He ran better, he posted better. I really enjoyed the way he played today.”
Kyle Ahrens, ‘the definition of Michigan State basketball,’ returns to the court
Fifth-year senior forward Kyle Ahrens has sat for Michigan State’s past three games due to what Izzo called an “achilles/ankle thing.”
The Versailles, Ohio native has struggled with injury throughout his career but was happy to be out on the court again as each game brings him closer to the last time he’ll wear a Michigan State jersey.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sore, but it’s part of something I’m going to have to play (through),” Ahrens said. “I only have two months left, so I’m going to make sure I make the most of that.”
Putting out a younger team than Izzo originally anticipated, Izzo said that he values the experience Ahrens brings to the court and sees it as a valuable part of the team’s game in the future.
“I think you can see, he just gives us something,” Izzo said. “He gives us experience, he gives us a guy that can knock down shots, he gives us some toughness. ... Getting him back to even 15 minutes a game would change our (game) a lot, and then we can hold some of these guys a little more accountable to doing things that they should do.”
Junior forward Xavier Tillman shared similar feelings about Ahrens’ contributions to not only this team, but to the program as a whole.
“The definition of Spartan basketball is Kyle Ahrens," Tillman said. "His toughness, his interity, his fight to just want to be on the court, even if his body’s like, ‘No you cannot be on the court.’ You heard it from the crowd when he stepped on the court, they were behind his back 100%."
Ahrens sunk a three just over a minute after stepping out onto the court late in the first half. He also contributed three assists to the Spartans victory.
“It felt great. I give a lot of credit to these guys, these guys motivate me each and everyday,” Ahrens said. “It’s hard being out ... especially for the time I have been in my career, but when you have guys like these and an amazing wife and an amazing family that always supports me. … It makes this kind of moment special.”