Senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. had one made shot, got to the line a couple of times and pulled down a handful of boards in the first half. He didn’t seem like somebody who had just got a supposed shot in the arm six days ago with a stellar Senior Night performance that served as a sort of vindication for his journey at Michigan State. Nor was he playing like it as Wisconsin cleaned on the offensive glass.
Up two at the half in a rock fight against Wisconsin, Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo took notice of this aspect in particular.
“We didn't have any offensive rebounds,” Bingham said. “Coach challenged me at halftime, so they're just coming out with the energy and (I tried) to prove him right.”
Sitting one chair over, Izzo broke into a little chuckle after Bingham’s earnest answer, one that the senior center wouldn’t see. He would later elaborate on the source of that laugh when it was just him on the stage with a couple of things to consider about his senior big.
“There was a ‘Come to the big fella’ meeting at halftime with me and (Associate Head Coach Dwayne Stephens),” he said. “I mean, if he would just keep his tail in that post some, he's really an effective player. And it helps him get some more rebounds because if you're outside, you don't get them.We encouraged him to stay in there and he did a hell of a job, deserves a lot of credit.”
It was fitting that Izzo and Stephens admittedly went a “little old school” on Bingham at the half in a game that brought back long-dormant memories of vintage Michigan State-Wisconsin matchups when former coaches Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan were running the show for the Badgers—in other words, the first team to 50 points, wins. Beyond the play, it harkened back to an era where “encouragement” and “challenging” were interchangeable in the grand scheme of motivation.
And, sure, it was an era where centers mostly stayed in the paint.
Bingham responded with what Izzo said was the best second half of his career in the green and white, seemingly parked in the post and ever active on the glass to tie his career-high with 19 points and picked up 11 rebounds to secure his second double-double in three games and a semifinal appearance in the Big Ten Tournament. This time, it was his coach’s turn for an earnest answer.
“I'm proud of him, but I'm happy for him,” Izzo said. “One thing about Marcus that my staff, we always say, he could have left three times and (we) wouldn't have blamed him, but he just kept coming back for more and I sure would like to see him end his career on a serious positive note.”
The long, plodding steps to that note restarted when sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard released the ball with both hands, right into the outstretched hands of Bingham for a dunk in transition to bring Michigan State back within two as they started to trade leads with the Badgers.
Then, after junior forward Tyler Wahl blocked a corner three from junior forward Malik Hall that didn’t even sniff the rim, Bingham picked up one of the offensive boards he’d been challenged for and put it up over sophomore center Steven Crowl with his right hand to tie the game at 40.
As he continued to assert himself, they kept coming back to him. Hoggard found Bingham open in the paint for two alley-oops, the first one a dunk to tie the game once again and the second resulting in a tip-in to give Michigan State a lead they’d hold for virtually the rest of the second half on the strength of an 11-2 personal run Bingham corked off on his own.
“Obviously, he's improved immensely through his career there and he's made himself into a good player,” Wisconsin Head Coach Greg Gard said. “I thought there were times when we let him catch it too deep and too easy, didn't think we gave enough support to him and to his defender at times and squeeze him enough.”
”Then he got a couple offensive rebounds, we drug too far on ball screens on a couple of lobs, and he's obviously improved,” senior guard Brad Davison added. ”He's made himself into a good player and he was better than what we were defensively there.”
Bingham’s momentum-shifting run, three blocks, one steal and a stout defensive presence came in 22 minutes, the most time Bingham had spent on the court since he posted 24 minutes in a Jan. 2 win at Northwestern. After battling the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the continuous questions about his effort throughout that recovery, he said being able to play through what Izzo said was his second wind meant a lot to him.
“Even if they feel I was doing something wrong, they had my back, clapping their hands and telling me I'm good and stuff like that,” he said. “So when the team camaraderie is like that, that makes everything easier.”
With three straight wins that have brought Michigan State from merely thankful to win to joyous after grinding out a win, Izzo said the collective performance that has changed the tone around his program.
“Maybe it takes a little longer, but maybe we're coming together a little bit,” Izzo said.
Working towards ending on an ever-elusive serious positive note, he could’ve just as well have been speaking about Bingham.
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