Thursday, December 2, 2021

MSU men's basketball cruises past Butler thanks to stifling defense led by Marcus Bingham Jr.

November 18, 2021
<p>Senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) blocks the ball during the game against Butler on Nov. 17, 2021, at the Hinkler Fieldhouse. The Spartans defeated the Bulldogs 73-52. </p>

Senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) blocks 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

Senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. beamed with pride about his defensive performance against Butler in the halls of Hinkle Fieldhouse. Wearing a red and yellow Dennis Rodman shirt, Bingham said his performance lived up to the legendary defender whose face was draped across his chest.

Unlike the intense enigma that is Rodman, Bingham was all smiles and laughs talking about the best defensive effort of his career.

“Y’all gotta check the stats, man,” Bingham said, comparing his career defensive night to one of the best defenders in NBA history. “I think I did that.”

Bingham finished the win over Butler with one of the most complete stat-lines of his career: 10 points, six rebounds, two steals and a career-high six blocks. 

Bingham was the first Spartan with six blocks since Xavier Tillman against Michigan in 2019-20,  tied for the fourth-most blocks in a single game in MSU history.

Every time that Butler tried to penetrate the lane with its lightning-quick guards, Bingham was there waiting underneath the rim. He used his length to deter guards from attacking the basket, leading to a lot of attempted kick-outs or wrap-around passes to the weak block. The Bulldogs' trepidation to attack inside hurt tremendously, leading to the least amount of points scored by Butler since putting up 51 against UConn on Jan. 26.

And Bingham set that tone early for the Spartans.

After starting the scoring off with a powerful two-handed dunk, he came down the court and sent Butler’s first shot from freshman guard Jayden Taylor flying away from the rim. 20 seconds later, Bingham recorded his second block of the first minute of the game.

“That's gonna spark the plug man for the whole team, doing stuff like that,” Bingham said. “My team trusted me and then they go and they feedin’ off my energy and stuff I do.”

For Michigan State fans, the emergence of Bingham as one of the team’s most reliable players is a welcome surprise but Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo is not shocked by what his seven-foot rim protector is doing.

“Marcus has done what a lot of us did back in college, you mature as you get older,” Izzo said. “Sometimes it takes a little longer but he's made some serious progress.”

The stifling performance on the interior from MSU’s senior center was the catalyst for what Izzo described as one of Michigan State’s best defensive efforts in a few years. MSU held Butler to 52 points on 28.6% shooting from the field (16-56) en-route to a comfortable 21-point victory.

That was the fewest points given up by Michigan State since holding Rutgers to 45 points on Jan. 5. The 28.6% field goal percentage is the lowest allowed by the Spartans since holding Binghamton to 47 points in the second game of the 2019-20 season (The Bearcats shot 27.9% in that game).

“I think we did a decent job of defending without fouling and we did a decent job of contesting shots, but they made a couple big ones too,” Izzo said.

The effort from the defense helped Michigan State keep a commanding lead from wire to wire after jumping out to a quick 10-point lead in the opening six minutes. 

MSU’s unprecedented success on offense faded as quickly as it arrived for MSU, however. After the crazed scoring outburst that led to a 20-8 lead early, MSU could not buy a bucket for the rest of the half. After starting 8-14 from the field, MSU only hit three more shots to finish with 31 points on 11-26 shooting in the first half.

The seemingly never-ending string of empty possessions did not let Butler back into the game. Not even close. As Michigan State started to struggle, Butler continued with its head under the water offensively and finished with 23 first-half points.

“To be honest, we just weren't hitting shots,” freshman guard Max Christie said. “We were getting a lot of good looks in that sort of stretch, we just weren't hitting shots. But I think we really laid back on our defense. I think our defense tonight really, really helped us when we weren't hitting shots early in the game.” 

Starting with the thundering rejection from Bingham, it did not get much better after that for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer was graduate forward Ty Groce, who finished with 15 points. The only other player that put up double figures was sophomore point guard Chuck Harris with 13 in total.

The two leading scorers for the Bulldogs combined for 28 points on 29 attempted shots. Harris and Groce, who had the best offensive performances, shot 27.5% from the field, going 8-29 combined. The rest of Butler combined to make eight shots to shoot 29.6% from the field (8-27) for 24 points.

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Izzo said that he thought that Butler missed a lot more shots than they normally would, but still gave credit to the team’s effort in stopping the Bulldogs.

“I think our defense had something to do with it,” Izzo said. “I thought they missed some shots, just like I thought their defense had something to do with us but we missed some shots too.”

The suffocating performance from Michigan State’s defense pushed the Spartans above .500 for the first time this year at 2-1 and a roadmap of how to win games through the defense down the line. 

It also provided Izzo with a perfect cap to the Spartans’ road trip. Thanks to the defensive effort, Tom Izzo is leaving the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse with a 1-0 record coaching there.

“For me, It was a hell of a day,” Izzo said. “And we played probably as well defensively as you've seen a Michigan State team play in a few years.”

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