Saturday, May 21, 2022

Joey Hauser’s consistent approach sparks career performance and a wild night at The Well

March 19, 2022
<p>Redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser (10) defends the ball during Michigan State&#x27;s win over the Davidson Wildcats on March 18, 2022.</p>

Redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser (10) defends the ball during Michigan State's win over the Davidson Wildcats on March 18, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

The sign out front says Bon Secours Wellness Arena, but get inside and it goes by a different name: The Well. And if that sounds more like a hole-in-the-wall bar than a basketball arena, maybe it’s because it felt like that when Michigan State and Davidson got together for a nightcap to wrap up two long, wild days of college hoops. 

The air was oddly stuffy. The people definitely weren’t. It got loud, loud enough where yelling became the baseline form of communication. Things got weird, real weird, so an unspoken pact among everyone on hand made sense: 

Whatever happens at The Well, stays at The Well. 

In that woozy atmosphere, both teams settled down after a runaway train first couple of minutes and a wild, inexplicable, am I seeing this right? kind of thing started happening. 

That is, redshirt senior Joey Hauser. Pulling up from three to make it 5-0 early. Finding senior forward Gabe Brown for another open triple. Backing down senior center Luka Brajkovic and junior forward Michael Jones in the post time and time again. Spacing the floor and playing great defense.

When Hauser was 8-8 from the field and 3-3 from deep with 15:41 left, it seemed like everybody came around on what they were seeing. 

Joey Hauser after dark? Joey Hauser after dark

“He rebounded the ball. He defended the ball. He went after blocked shots. He made some good passes,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “He played about as complete a game as any forward I've had here in a long time, if you look at all the things he did.”

The numbers haven’t always communicated the ethos of Hauser well but they certainly did on Friday night career-high 27 points, eight rebounds in 33 minutes as the life of the party at The Well. His first NCAA Tournament win, a 74-73 nip and tuck victory over Davidson, had his indelible, much-maligned fingerprints all over it. 

“There has been a different Joey in the last three weeks, and I think part of it, it could be he's feeling better, more comfortable and confident,” Izzo said. “It could be the end is near, so it makes you feel a different way. But I think he feels better about the game.”

Just after midnight, Brown was called on to discuss all things Hauser. 

“I’m just so proud of Joey,” he said. “Joey works his nuts off every single day he comes in. I’m just happy he hit his shots and I’m...”

Izzo did a double take and looked over at his co-captain in surprise. 

“This isn’t HBO, y’know” he interrupted, laughter bursting out around the room. 

Choice phrasing aside, Brown got the allure of the situation right. Hauser’s run at Michigan State could come to an end as soon as Sunday and like his night at The Well, there’s a lot to go over. 

Start at the top one more time: recruited by the Spartans out of high school, but went to Marquette. Averaged 9.7 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Golden Eagles as a freshman. Transferred to Michigan State and sat out a year, stock steadily going up with every favorable story coming out of the Breslin Center.

Then, COVID-19. 2020-21 was going really well for Hauser until it wasn’t. A 27 point game against Wisconsin on Christmas Day was the high watermark before things went steadily downhill. Battling some unseen forces, he asked to come off the bench for the remainder of a do-or-die regular season that came off more like a “blur” than anything else. 

That sour ending bled into parts of this season as frustrations mounted over his starting position and shooting tendencies while he looked to rediscover his role again. Like his team, there were good days and bad days. 

Hauser’s last second game winner against Minnesota? Good, really good. A subsequent loss to Northwestern, one where he struggled mightily in crunch time against junior center Ryan Young? Not ideal. 

“So many people jumped off his bandwagon,” Izzo said. “I never did. You never jump off somebody's bandwagon when you know they're working towards it, and every single day he brought it.”

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Against Davidson, the work showed in the big shots. Hauser answered the call to tie it up at 39, 41 and 56 but the one in the middle was the most indicative of the flow he’d found. 

Michigan State almost turned it over after a long pass from junior center Julius Marble II almost got nabbed by senior guard Foster Loyer, Hauser’s old roommate. Loyer saved it from going out of bounds but it bounced dead on the right block, solely for Hauser’s taking. 

He picked it up. He was open. So he shot it and tied it at 41. 

“That's the beauty of this tournament-anything can happen,” he said. “Offensively, I've been struggling this season, just trying to let it fly and not worry about missing shots. So tonight I really just let that happen, and good things happened.” 

It merely served to feed the defense he’s brandished amid those struggles and, after successfully contesting one crucial late three from Brajkovic to help seal the win, his coach noticed something a little more unusual. 

“I don't get a chance to see Joey smile a lot,” Izzo said. “He's got one of those personalities that I tell him to stick it where the sun doesn't shine because it's kind of, you know, just kind of mellow. But he even -- when he put our name on the board that day, God, he even slapped it and smiled. So maybe he's coming into his own here.”

It’s an interesting dynamic. A little over a week ago, Michigan State went to bed frustrated over having barely escaped Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament. Today, they’re the same team with a completely overhauled sense of confidence and Hauser is the walking, talking-don’t forget smiling-embodiment of that.

And yet, they only have a guaranteed 40 minutes of basketball left. Hauser could come back for another ride in the green and white but Sunday night against Duke could be the end after all. 

That’s fine. Trying to get an elusive tournament win didn’t change his approach. Last call won’t either. 

“Every game is just as important as the other one,” he said. “Just because it's March Madness, for me, you've got to look at it the same way. Just coming in with the same mindset I've had all year really. Just get out there and do my job when I'm open, knock down shots. If we win the game, we'll talk about it afterwards.” 

After a wild night at The Well, that’s all they did. 


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