Thursday, December 2, 2021

True freshman Max Christie turns in strongest performance so far against Butler

November 18, 2021
<p>Freshman guard Max Christie (5) shoots the ball during the game against Butler on Nov. 17, 2021, at the Hinkler Fieldhouse. The Spartans defeated the Bulldogs 73-52. </p>

Freshman guard Max Christie (5) shoots the ball during the game against Butler on Nov. 17, 2021, at the Hinkler Fieldhouse. The Spartans defeated the Bulldogs 73-52.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

With roughly eight and a half minutes to go in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the jeers rang down from every direction onto the court towards freshman guard Max Christie as he shot free throws.

“MAX YOU SUCK, MAX YOU SUCK, MAX YOU SUCK…,” they chanted. 

A capacity crowd of fans cheering or yelling from the stands of a legendary arena, half-cathedral, half-barn that’s just about always packed to the brim and always looking to intimidate. Certainly a nerve-inducing situation for the freshman, no? 

Not quite. The former consensus five-star and McDonald's All-American said he was past it before the crowd could even single him out. 

“I thought I handled it well,” he said of the ever-active Hinkle crowd. “I adjusted to it well in the first couple of minutes and the rest was history.” 

And so, two made free throws added to a career night as the Spartans ran away with it. The rest was history. 

Christie dropped 18 points on 6-9 shooting (2-4 from three) in 32 minutes, the second time this season he’s led the Spartans in minutes played. The talent and efficiency on display had flashed in exhibition games against Ferris State and Grand Valley State but was less of a force against Kansas and Western Michigan. 

It was there in full force on Wednesday night: Cutting through the defense for layups, shooting — and making — contested threes, floaters in the paint, a pair of monster rebounds and playing hard-nosed defense against a stout Butler backcourt. Christie said it was a concerted attempt to be more aggressive and assertive and it played out about as well as anybody could have hoped. 

This wasn’t a true breakout game nor was it much of a revelation — again, Christie was a five-star prospect and earned just about every major honor one could coming out of Rolling Meadows High School. And there will be further games soon where Christie continues to showcase the talents that brought him to Michigan State to play on legendary stages like Hinkle and Madison Square Garden. 

But in a season where Michigan State has looked to start anew and separate themselves from the past, performances like these will only serve to further excite players, coaches and a growing audience for the freshman. 

Far away from the boos and the chants, senior forward Gabe Brown sat next to Christie at the postgame presser and paused when asked about Christie in regards to his night and his overall game. 

“He’s a pro,” he said. “At the end of the day, he’s a pro. He works — works more than a lot of people that you would know. He drinks his water, he gets his rest.” 

Brown paused again, almost exasperated by what he’s describing. 

“He does everything right, like literally, everything right. I’ve never seen a kid that just does everything right,” he said.

Christie talked faster, bashful as he was over Brown’s comments. Like a child politely tired of a parent singing their praises over and over again, he doubled down and remained insistent on pointing out his flaws. 

“I’ll make some mistakes here and there,” Christie said. “I definitely don’t do everything right. I don’t think it’s possible to be perfect. I mean, I make mistakes all the time, of course. But I do a lot of things wrong ... I appreciate him for it but I don’t do everything right.”

Men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo is aware of what he’s dealing with in Christie. The Hall of Fame coach compared him to former Michigan State player Gary Harris as one that makes “very few mistakes” to the point that he’s “not even any fun to coach.” 

“I got on him the first game and he looked at me kind of strange,” Izzo said. “And then I realized, why wouldn’t he? I haven’t been on him since he got here.”

After singing Christie’s praises, be it about his grades or water consumption, Izzo added that he even asked the team who he gets on the least. The team agreed: It’s Christie. 

“They answered the same way I did: Because he doesn’t do a lot of things wrong,” Izzo said. ”And he’s solid as the day is long. He’s gonna be a special player because when he isn’t playing as good ... he’s in there, wanting to learn, wanting to go more.”

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Christie’s legacy at Michigan State is completely undetermined. Anything can happen in a season as long as this and again, it’s tough to call his performance on Wednesday a true breakout. 

But as far as they go — on national television, in Hinkle, shooting as well as anybody on the court — it’s a start that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.  

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