After Michigan State’s win against Toledo last Saturday, junior guard Tyson Walker explained that he is focused more on setting up others rather than scoring, explaining the slow start for him offensively this year.
Walker cracked double-digit scoring for the first time this year against the Rockets, putting up 11 points and six assists to help lead the Spartans to score 81 points and walk away with the comfortable victory. Even in the win though, Walker focused on his facilitating rather than his own shot.
“Sometimes I feel like it's too early in a possession so I try to move the ball but it'll come,” Walker said about not taking many shots. “I'm not pressing for it.”
This has been the theme for Walker and the Spartans all year. Despite starting and playing the third-most minutes of anyone on the team this year, Walker is the team’s fifth-leading scorer and is tied for the sixth-most shots of anyone on the team per game.
However, the script flipped for Walker and the Spartans on Wednesday night against Minnesota. From the opening tip, Walker was setting the tone for Michigan State offensively on the way to a season-high 15 points on 71.4% shooting from the field (5-7). It started with a 6-0 run from Walker on an and-one and a three off the dribble in the opening moments of the game to get MSU on the board early.
It was Walker’s first game in a hostile Big Ten environment. After playing the first two years in small venues in the CAA sports conference while at Northeastern, Walker got his first taste of a Big Ten crowd on the road at the Barn in Minnesota.
“The crowds — that is a big difference for me,” Walker said after the Toledo game. “I don't think coach and them really recognized that but even today, I was like 'Damn, it's pretty crowded in here.' They were like it's not even that crowded. It's different where I come from.”
It was yet another step in the right direction for Michigan State’s starting point guard, who is beginning to find his sea legs in the MSU offense after transferring in during the offseason, something that Izzo sarcastically joked isn't allowed anymore in today's college basketball scene.
“He's trying to get arrested because that's illegal — to actually get better through the process,” Izzo said. “The process is something that nobody wants to deal with anymore. ... I was really proud of him honestly because I think he's getting better and better and better.”
As Walker has improved, so has Michigan State’s offense as a whole. Over the past two games when Walker has reached double digits and looked comfortable orchestrating the offense, MSU has played two of its best halves of basketball against Toledo and Minnesota.
On Saturday, MSU put up 43 points in the first half on Toledo and then followed that up with a 37-point opening 20 minutes in Minneapolis on Wednesday. In both games, Walker has been the one that has set the pace and put MSU in positions to score on high-quality shots.
The biggest difference that Walker has shown over the past two games is his ability to attack the rim. Walker is often the fastest player on the court for either team and has begun to use his speed and quickness to penetrate deep into the paint to either create an open three for someone else or get a quick layup before the defense is set and ready.
Over the last three games, Walker has tallied 19 assists to go with his 28 points in that span. His ability to drive and kick has also allowed Michigan State’s shooters to flourish. MSU has shot 39.1% (29-74) from three over that stretch of games, making MSU’s once-anemic offense take a step towards becoming a well-oiled machine.
As Michigan State continues its journey into the heart of the Big Ten schedule, the keys to Michigan State’s offense are in Walker’s hands. He is the pace-setter and his ability to create for himself, as was evident against Minnesota, can unlock a whole different dimension for the Spartans.
“He is starting to understand,” Izzo said. “Like he laughed on the court and said ‘Now I see why’ because we had some guys that didn't do what they're supposed to do and made him look bad. I think the more he gets out there and gets after people and talks to them on the floor and runs my team, the better we're going to be.”
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