On a cold, sunny Saturday afternoon, sophomore guard A.J Hoggard walked out of the locker room and into the doghouse.
The story is old at this point but important nonetheless: the sophomore point guard had 4 points, 5 assists and 3 turnovers in the 64-62 loss at the hands of Northwestern on Jan. 12. Worse yet, several of these giveaways were of the inexplicable, “non-negotiable” brand that have been a strain on Michigan State basketball since Hoggard re-exploded onto the scene with a career-high 17 points in their season opener against Kansas.
“There was no "little" down on him,” Michigan State Men's Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo said of Hoggard and the week following his previous performance. “I did speak out more about it and I told him I was gonna and I told him why and I had three hour meetings with him over that time. Sometimes you need a little attitude adjustment, sometimes you need an overhaul. And I just said, it ain’t working.”
It ain’t working. What could make it work at this point? They tried meetings, for starters. Watched plenty of film-Hoggard said he watched all 18 turnovers he’s had in Big Ten play up to that point. Worked through what Izzo called the “constructive conflict with constructive criticism.”
And yes, they practiced hard.
At the end of a long week, there was Hoggard, striding out of the doghouse with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists and 1 turnover to his name against Wisconsin. The same one that’s been known to swing out of his shoes for the home run plays he’s vowed to eliminate hacked away to great success with a contact hitting approach on Friday night.
“He did a magnificent job,” Izzo said.
So, in a game littered with turnaround midrange jumpers and long threes that held off a dangerous Badgers squad at every turn, one of the most interesting responses in the Spartan’s stunning 86-74 rebound came from one of the most interesting figures playing in the green and white these days.
“I thought he ran the offense like almost flawlessly,” freshman guard Max Christie said of Hoggard.
That idea — it ain’t working to almost flawless in less than a week — resounds for a team striving to access their high ceiling with a coach that admits they can “make mistakes if nobody was on the floor.” But where to begin?
Start with the facilitation. After his game against Wisconsin, Hoggard has risen all the way up to second (47.3%) in KenPom’s assist rate, a statistic charting assists divided by field goals made by a player’s teammates while they’re on the court.
Christie, one of the players Hoggard slung the ball to for a cross and made three on senior guard Brad Davison, testified to Hoggard’s greater control against Wisconsin and the growth it displays.
“He’s just doing a better job of getting us into our spots, making us flow into our offense and taking care of the ball, which is one of the biggest things we need, especially on the road,” Christie said.
That flow wasn’t on display when he checked in with 10:53 left in the first half but soon, the offense started to hum like it hadn’t since before Christmas. Hoggard, looking to give the team a spark, succeeded quickly by getting the ball to junior center Julius Marble II for a lead Michigan State would never relinquish.
In a groove, Hoggard assisted on 4 other baskets while posting 4 points of his own over more formidable defenders to provide a steadying presence that helped grow the lead from 2 to 17 after being down early in a tough road environment.
“To his credit, (it’s) not easy to do,” Izzo said of the adjustments Hoggard’s made to get to this point. “I mean, he changed a lot of his game. He did not over-penetrate, he did not jump in the air.”
There was more to the night than his gamebreaking shift. Hoggard’s point total was largely bolstered by an 8-10 performance from the charity stripe, with 6 made free throws in the final 90 seconds to help ice the game for good, a marked improvement for a 56.4% free throw shooter in 2021-22.
Then there was his defense, hustling around, tipping passes and selling out for the steal every now and then. Hoggard was pitted against Wisconsin’s ultra-dynamic sophomore guard Johnny Davis early and late in the game and stood tall throughout the shifting assignment to cap off a wildly encouraging night.
With all this in mind, Hoggard’s night in Madison could easily be considered his most complete — if not his best — performance since his tilt against Kansas on Nov. 9, 2021. When asked how it feels to have done something like this, he said it feels especially better considering they got the win this time around and credited his teammates for encouraging him to stay upbeat amid some struggles.
Still coming off the bench, Hoggard is emblematic of the depth-and the approach-Michigan State can ride to further success.
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“Everybody brings a level head and the mindset to where they can contribute to help us get the win,” he said. “I think (freshman guard Jaden Akins) did a good job of that, Hall did a hell of a job with that tonight. (Redshirt senior Joey Hauser) did his thing tonight. A lot of guys did their jobs tonight and doing your job always leads to good outcomes.”
Few can relish this outcome more than Hoggard. But it’s Izzo who relishes his answer to a dismal outing.
“If I can post him up when he did bad,” Izzo said,” I should be able to tell him how proud I am that he responded.”
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