Prior to the start of the 2022-23 season, there was concern around the lack of experience in the middle. With junior center Mady Sissoko playing shortened minutes the previous season and two freshman coming in, it was uncertain how things would shake out.
Although MSU bigs have all had a chance to rack up minutes this season, they've struggled to defend some of the best bigs in the country, including Purdue junior center Zach Edey on Monday.
In Michigan State’s 70-57 win over the Scarlet Knights, freshman forward Jaxon Kohler stunned the crowd by earning his first Spartan double-double and setting a new career-high in points.
Kohler grasped 12 points, 11 rebounds and tacked on three blocks late in the game against Rutgers.
“He was big time,” graduate student forward Joey Hauser said. “He made some big buckets down the stretch.”
Prior to Thursday night’s win, Kohler had seen the floor for minimal minutes. Kohler played four minutes against Wisconsin, two at Illinois and seven at home against Purdue.
Against Rutgers, Kohler played a career-high 23 minutes.
Head coach Tom Izzo was impressed with Kohler’s performance, and his ability to step up with senior forward Malik Hall missing from the lineup.
“I think we did a better job of getting him the ball," Izzo said. "He did a great job of posting deeper and that made a big difference."
Kohler was thrilled with his results, but said he needs to continue to improve in order to help his team.
Izzo and Kohler's teammates have noticed a shift in his confidence and grasp of his role on the team from the beginning of the season to now. He's become more comfortable playing larger minutes and defending bigs with more experience at the collegiate level.
Kohler said it meant the world to see his teammates celebrate his success and vice versa.
“Seeing someone else succeed, especially on this team when you know that every single person cares about your success, I think that’s what makes this team so special,” Kohler said. “That feeling right there is something that can never be replaced,” Kohler said.
Kohler plans to take the adrenaline from Thursday night’s ‘rock fight’ with him as MSU gears up for a road game against Indiana on Sunday
Tipoff is set for noon. Until then, Michigan State needs to zero in on a few aspects of its game, specifically defensive rebounding, as Rutgers ultimately outrebounded the Spartans, 42-34.
“It’s gonna be another aggressive game, Indiana is going to be physical,” junior guard A.J. Hoggard said. “We have to get back to the drawing board, watch where we missed cutouts or weren‘t aggressive enough towards the ball and learn from it to take to the game versus Indiana.”
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