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MSU upsets Illinois, but in a big win it was all about the 'little things'

February 24, 2021

As big of a victory Michigan State men’s basketball’s 81-72 upset of Illinois was, it's the little things that made it happen. 

It was the time sophomore guard Rocket Watts and graduate student guard Joshua Langford spent watching film together. 

Or it was junior guard Foster Loyer offering his freshman teammate A.J. Hoggard a high-five and boost of confidence after a heated conversation with Head Coach Tom Izzo midgame.

Or, it was the extra minutes several players put in at the gym this past week to prepare for the team's colossal last two weeks.

It was the little things that made Izzo proud walking off the Breslin court Tuesday night.

“They’ve gone through a tough time and kept their head above water, kept practicing,” Izzo said, touching on the extra bits of effort he’s seen from his players in recent days. “... Those are the little things that brings smiles to a coach's face.”

Izzo opened the week, one that began a slate of six games over 13 days, with two simple words for the team to focus on. 

“The first word from coach was 'connected' and then the second word was 'attitude,'” Langford said. “... I think we did an unbelievable job of continuing to be locked in and continuing to be connected and have a solid attitude regardless of what we see.”

It was the connectedness that led Langford to a career-defining double-double marked with 16 rebounds and 15 points. Langford said Izzo and him joked post-game that he grabbed more rebounds in this match than he did his entire freshman year.

Other players showed progress too in the win, including ones that have struggled as of late.

“When guys have been struggling like Rocket or like Joey and then they come back and make big plays, that’s great, especially at this time of year,” Izzo said.

Watts contributed 15 points, his most in Big Ten play this season, in his first start since Jan. 31. He attributed his profound confidence to the extra time he spends with his teammates in their off time. Hauser scored 13 points in his newly-defined role off the bench.

“When we got free time we’ll just text each other and say we’re going to watch film,” Watts said. “I feel like that helps a lot, and Josh, he’s playing a big role with that. We’re just doing the little things like coming in watching film and stuff like that, and I feel like we’re doing a great job at that right now.”

The Spartans will look to stay connected and continue this momentum against No. 4 Ohio State on Thursday.

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