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FINAL: MSU 68, Rutgers 45, men's hoops capitalizes off defensive performance

January 5, 2021
<p>Then-sophomore forward Aaron Henry (11) shoots the ball during the game against Rutgers at Breslin Center on Dec. 8, 2019. The Spartans lead the Scarlet Knights at halftime, 33-28.</p>

Then-sophomore forward Aaron Henry (11) shoots the ball during the game against Rutgers at Breslin Center on Dec. 8, 2019. The Spartans lead the Scarlet Knights at halftime, 33-28.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

With a dominant defensive performance and a 13-0 run to close the game that junior forward Aaron Henry carried, No. 23 Michigan State men’s basketball won its second conference game in a row Tuesday against No. 15 Rutgers, 68-45.

The Scarlet Knights shot 30.5% on the game, their lowest percentage since Jan. 14, 2018, against Ohio State. Rutgers also put up their lowest point total in a game this season. Their previous low was the 68 they scored in a loss to Ohio State on Dec. 23, 2020.

“I thought tonight we played Michigan State basketball,” MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo said after the game. “We defended. We rebounded. We ran.”

“I’m very proud of my staff, and I’m very proud of my team," he said. "I think we won the game in the two days of prep, and I give all my staff credit for that.”

Henry, the defensive powerhouse in this matchup, ended the night with two steals, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

The junior put two together on both ends too. After putting up a career-high 27 points against Nebraska, the guard finished Tuesday night with 20 points, shooting 8-for-13 overall.

Henry and the Spartans held Rutgers to just two field goals in the game’s first seven minutes to take an early 11-4 lead. 

Freshman guard A.J. Hoggard saw his second start of the season at the point guard position. Hoggard opened the game in promising fashion with a dime to Thomas Kithier under the basket to start the night off. 

On the next two Spartan positions though, Hoggard committed turnovers: A bad pass and just losing the ball on a bad dribble. It was the first act of a script full of sloppy ball-handling that MSU would struggle with all game. 

Six of Rutgers' first eight points were scored off MSU turnovers.

As the night progressed, the Spartans would continue to commit 18 turnovers and Rutgers would capitalize, scoring 19 points off those Spartan missed opportunities. 

As the first half wound down, Rutgers cut into the Spartans lead, putting themselves within one score three minutes before halftime. 

With their lead — one they had held all game — at stake, the Spartans pulled away again thanks to a layup by sophomore forward Malik Hall and a three-point shot by junior forward Gabe Brown in crunch time. MSU entered the half leading the Scarlet Knights, 28-22.

“I thought that was one of our better defensive performances in a couple years,” Izzo said. “It definitely was the best of the year because it was against a quality team that had size inside. Those guards were great.”

But the energy that Rutgers had seemed to muster up at the end of the first half was lost out of the locker room. The Scarlet Knights went on a scoring drought after a three from junior guard Montez Mathis early in the second half.

While Rutgers struggled, MSU went on a scoring run that extended their lead to 36-25 just five minutes into the half.

The Spartans preserved their lead in several ways.

Hall and Kithier held Rutgers' Ron Harper Jr. to just six points in the first half and seven in the second. Harper usually leads the Scarlet Knights, averaging 22.1 points per game before this match against MSU.

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“The job that I think Kithier and Malik Hall did on Ron Harper, who I think is one of the better players in this league, they just didn’t give him any shots," Izzo said.

Additionally, Rutgers desperately struggled from the free-throw line, making six of their 17 attempts all night.

“We knew that this was a really important game," redshirt junior forward Joey Hauser said. "We won today, we got a big one coming up on Friday and we really want to win that one to put ourselves right back in the mix of this. … This is one of the best conferences in the nation right now.” 

The Spartans will remain home to host Purdue on Friday at 7 p.m. 

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