Michigan State men’s basketball is officially back and so is sophomore guard Jaden Akins.
It’s no surprise that Akins came in full force after his eight-week hiatus due to a foot injury. Akins contributed six of MSU's points in its 73-55 victory Monday night against the Northern Arizona Wildcats.
After it being in question whether Akins would check in at all in the season opener, fans were relieved to see Akins in uniform, participating in pregame warmups.
Akins said he was pretty comfortable while playing with little to no noticeable pain throughout the 16 minutes he played.
“It felt really good just to play,” Akins said. “I had a couple practices this weekend when I knew that I was gonna be able to try to give it a go tonight. It’s just good to be back out there in the actual game getting up and down.”
MSU looked like a completely different team compared to what it displayed in the first half versus Grand Valley State last week. The question is, how much of that can be attributed to Akins’ return?
“He came into the game, and you can just feel the energy shift,” freshman forward Jaxon Kohler said. “We really felt like the team was complete. Even though he’s been out for a little while with his injury, I don’t feel like he’s skipping a beat.”
Kohler credited Akins for his perseverance, ability to deal with adversity and how he presents that to the rest of the team.
“He sets a good example on and off the court,” Kohler said. “He sets an example on the court of how to work hard and if things aren’t going your way, how to deal with it and have a good attitude. Off the court, how to be an example to others and to just be a good person.”
Akins eased into Monday’s game and notched six points within eight minutes, one rebound and was 3-7 from the field.
The second half was quieter for Akins but crucial nonetheless in terms of getting his feet wet prior to the introduction of more daunting opponents in the coming weeks.
Akins checked in for sophomore guard Pierre Brooks with six minutes left in the second half, obtaining a personal foul with 4:12 left in the game. It was his only statistic on the second half box score outside of three missed shots, two of which came from beyond the arc.
Head Coach Tom Izzo said he was impressed with how Akins played, but not surprised. He thought he responded well and is in good shape considering the circumstances.
“He guarded and ran pretty well, he just was antsy offensively, he's anxious,” Izzo said. “He wants to do so good so bad. Most of the shots he took were pretty good, a couple of them were not, but considering what he’s been through and how hard he’s worked this summer.”
MSU heads to San Diego this week for the Armed Forces Classic against the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs. It looks like Akins will be in the game, but for how many minutes?
“I gotta make sure I'm getting my extra work in but being smart about it,” Akins said. “Making sure I'm getting my extra shots in, making sure everything’s feeling good going into those big games and going out there showing what I've been working on.”
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