Taking complete control in the waning minutes, Michigan State beat No. 23 Rutgers 70-57, snapping a two-game conference losing streak and moving to 5-3 in Big Ten play.
The Spartan defense was the star of the show. By the end of the night, the Scarlet Knights shot just 34.4% from the field and a paltry 11.8% 3-point shooting percentage. The visitors also turned the ball over 11 times.
MSU, on the other hand, was on fire from beyond the arch. Four of the starters made a 3-pointer and Michigan State finished with a 54.5% 3-point shooting percentage.
The biggest statistical blemish for MSU was the rebounding, especially in the first half. The visitors beat the Spartans 42-34 on the glass by the end of the game.
Freshman forward Jaxon Kohler had perhaps the most surprising performance of the night. He earned his first career double-double, scoring 12 points and snatching 11 rebounds, while playing a career-high 23 minutes.
Junior guard A.J. Hoggard had another solid night too, scoring a team-high 16 points and tacking on seven assists.
Michigan State got off to another slow start in the game’s opening minutes.
Perhaps the single worst statistic for MSU in the first half was the rebounding. Rutgers out-rebounded the home team 21-16, 10 of which were offensive. That imbalance on the glass was especially brutal in the first 10 minutes, when the visitors had firm control of the game.
However, MSU more than made up for it with an impressive showing from beyond the arch. The Spartans went into the locker room shooting 53.8% from three, while Rutgers shot just 10%.
Unsurprisingly, senior guard Tyson Walker was the strongest player at the half. He notched nine points and three steals, flexing both his offensive and defensive muscles.
However, for the most part the Spartans’ offensive output was spread across the starting lineup. None of the starting five found themselves in double-digits. Kohler was the strongest player off the bench for MSU, earning six points, a pair of rebounds and a block.
Rutgers’ defense was as good as advertised for a good chunk of the first half. The Spartans didn’t have many great looks, especially in and around the paint. The Scarlet Knights were also strong on the other end of the court, scoring at the rim and around the perimeter. In short, Rutgers had firm control in the first portion of the first half.
A Walker triple after the first media timeout seemed to spur the offense to life. Kohler scored a quick four points and MSU found itself within two points.
Soon afterwards, MSU took the lead thanks to a Hoggard triple. The game briefly see-sawed between the two squads for the next few minutes. However, the Spartan offense found a rhythm to end the half and began to dictate pace of play. Tightening up on defense and pushing the pace offensively, Michigan State went to the locker room with a 36-30 lead.
After a hot finish to the first, MSU’s offense looked choppy to start the second. The defense made up for that poor showing, ensuring the Scarlet Knights couldn't quite take control of things. Rutgers’ offense had to earn its points on the free-throw line.
Despite the solid defensive showing, the Scarlet Knights slowly chipped at the lead, cutting it down to a one score game. However, a steal and slam from sophomore guard Jaden Akins brought both the offense and the crowd back to life, and MSU began building on its lead.
Michigan State took control of the game in the waning minutes of the second half. Rutgers couldn’t seem to figure out the Spartan defense and the offense stayed warm for the remainder of the game.
The Spartans will hit the road Sunday for a noon matchup versus Indiana.
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