Despite facing off against a potential Wooden Award winner in No. 17 Indiana’s senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, freshman forward Jaxon Kohler stepped up and showed that he is becoming a post player that Michigan State can rely on.
Earlier in the season, Kohler was struggling with defensive coverages. However, as the year has progressed, he feels that he has gotten better with time and experience.
“I have been working on it in my off time,” Kohler said. “I was trying to work on my defense, and I say that early in the year that was something that I was struggling with. But I've been watching a lot of film and doing a lot of work after practice. Just make sure that I can cover those coverages. And I would say that has improved.”
His work paid off against Jackson-Davis as he forced multiple tough shots and was a big reason for his seven turnovers.
“He is a great, great player,” Kohler said. “I just did my best and tried to prepare as much as I could.”
Senior guard Tyson Walker said Kohler brought a ton of energy against the Hoosiers with his four points and seven rebounds.
“After he does something good, he gets everybody going,” Walker said. “It is just good to see his progress he has made offensively and defensively.”
MSU has struggled all season long to get consistent offensive production from the five spot, but after his performance at Ohio State a little over a week ago, Kohler said he wanted to make his coaches and teammates aware that he can be a reliable threat within 15 feet.
“That's a very big position to fill in,” Kohler said. “I want to make sure you know I can handle it. That's why every day I try to continue to make sure that if the opportunity comes in a game, I won't have an ounce of doubt. So that all my shots can go in and I'll be as comfortable as I can be.”
Junior guard A.J. Hoggard believes that when Kohler is comfortable on the floor offensively, his presence can create many opportunities within the offense that they try to run.
“He definitely draws attention there when he gets the ball, he can score the ball at a high level,” Hoggard said. “Just him being able to give us that outlet. Makes it a lot easier for us because you definitely got to give him attention when he has the ball. So, you either got to double or gotta dig or something that gives our shooters more opportunities.”
At times this season it seems that Kohler hit the “freshman wall.” While that wall still rears its head every now and then, Kohler says that he just tries to get through it with positivity.
“I feel like the freshman wall is for sure a thing and I feel like for every freshman it kind of hits in a different spot,” Kohler said. “There were freshmen who didn't hit it, right, as they got into college basketball themselves. There are some who continue to deal with it. There are some, once they kind of hit it, they just kind of get right over. There are some times where you know it kind of comes back to hit me and I just try to put a smile on my face and try to get over that wall every day.”
With only three games left in the regular season, Kohler knows that every game matters more than ever now, especially with a more favorable schedule than the last couple of weeks have shown.
“Our regular season is almost over so I'm gonna play these last couple games at 150% effort and everything I can so that I can say that I finished out the regular season playing my butt off,” Kohler said.
Michigan State’s next matchup will come this Saturday on the road against the Iowa Hawkeyes.