In the opening minutes of play on Tuesday night, it wasn’t looking too hot for Michigan State.
The Spartans couldn’t seem to get anything going offensively. Indiana went on an 8-0 run to start the game and junior guard A.J. Hoggard collected three turnovers within the first six minutes. It was an all too familiar start for the green and white.
Hoggard took a seat, had a talk with head coach Tom Izzo and once he returned to the floor, was a completely different player.
“I started off a little slow and Tyson got the ball rolling for us,” Hoggard said. “Things just started opening up a little, but I settled in and went with the game plan and made some plays happen for my team down the stretch."
It wasn't until the second half that Hoggard really heated up.
The guard proved his ability to assist in pulling the team out of a rut early on in order to claim the win, one MSU desperately needed as the season begins to wind down. The game also served as the first-time fans gathered together at the Breslin Center since the mass shooting on campus Feb. 13.
“Here at Michigan State pressure is a privilege,” Hoggard said. “We’re playing for a bigger purpose.”
It’s been a few years since Michigan State has had a clear leader at the one spot. Since the departure of guard Cassius Winston in 2020, the position has been up for grabs.
Hoggard, MSU’s starting point guard, has been a work in progress.
As the season has progressed, Hoggard has shown immense improvement, including his performance on display Tuesday night against the Hoosiers. The guard picked up 22 points, five assists and three rebounds against No. 17 Indiana.
“A.J.'s really good at getting downhill, getting to the rim,” graduate student forward Joey Hauser said. "He’s able to knock down an open shot."
As the end of the 2022-23 season approaches, Hoggard has demonstrated that he has what it takes to be the leader Izzo needs to take charge and run the team.
Following Tuesday’s win against Indiana, freshmen guard Tre Holloman and center Jaxon Kohler recognized the work Hoggard has put in this season and the contributions he made Tuesday night. The two freshmen look to Hoggard as a role model and expressed gratitude for his team leadership.
“As a freshman you come in a little intimidated because he’s the guy calling the shots…,” Kohler said. “Now I feel so comfortable playing with him and we understand each other".
As one half of the veteran backcourt alongside senior guard Tyson Walker, the two’s guard play is what’s going to propel MSU to victory down the stretch as the post season nears.
Hoggard and Walker’s dual backcourt potential was on display against Indiana on Tuesday. The two combined to score 45 of the Spartan’s 80 total points. Holloman said the two are best friends off the court, which aids in their ability to work so well with one another on the floor.
As long as Hoggard remains consistent and continues to perform as the point guard he’s been working to become all season, the Spartans backcourt will be in good shape heading into the postseason.
“Guard play is gonna win you games, especially late in February and going into the tournament,” Hauser said. “We need those guys to play well and they’re gonna play well, we gotta go on a run here and have a patented Michigan State Tom Izzo stretch here and go into March on a hot streak, so those guys are gonna lead the way.”