Michigan State is taking on Rutgers for the second time this season this Saturday. This time around it’ll be in the legendary Madison Square Garden.
“It’s definitely something you live for. One of the venues you get to check off your list,” junior guardA.J. Hoggard said. “New York City is the Mecca of college basketball, just to get an opportunity to play at the Garden in a college game, in a big game as well for both teams, it’s definitely going to be fun.”
The two teams squared off just a few short weeks at the Breslin Center. Despite a tough start and some back-and-forth play, Michigan State ultimately pulled away late for a comfortable 70-57 victory.
This time around, MSU will have senior forward Malik Hall in the rotation. Hall missed some time in mid-January after suffering an aggravation of a stress reaction in his left foot. However, Hall returned to the court with a strong showing against Iowa on Jan. 26, scoring 11 points as well as four assists and three rebounds.
“I’m happy to say that Malik has made some more significant progress,” Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo said.
Hall had a little bit of extra time to recover this week, thanks to a well-needed break in the schedule. After slogging through weeks off a brutal Big Ten slate, the Spartans have not played since last Sunday’s 77-61 loss to Purdue.
“You get more time in the gym, more time to study film, more time to work on things that we’ve been struggling with or not as comfortable with,” Hoggard said. “It’s definitely been good for us.”
That loss to the Boilermakers certainly gave MSU some things to work on during the break. Purdue dominated a majority of the game, thanks in large part to a 38-point night from its towering junior center, Zach Edey.
Purdue sits comfortable atop the Big Ten standings. However, just below is a fracas of teams separated by just a few losses. Michigan State and Rutgers are right in the mix; the Spartans are 6-5 in conference play and the Scarlet Knights are 7-4.
Scouting the opponent
Michigan State beat Rutgers by 13 points in the last matchup, but that final score is a tad misleading. MSU was in a dogfight for a good chunk of the game, only pulling away in the latter half of the second.
“They’re one of the oldest, toughest, most aggressive teams in our league,” Izzo said. “They’re very well coached - Steve's done a great job.”
Rutgers’ clear strength is still defense. The Scarlet Knights give up less than 60 points a night, which is the best in the Big Ten and the sixth-best in the nation.
“They’ve bought in, they’re all good defensive players,” Izzo said.
Offensively, the Spartans will have to contend with yet another talented big. Leading the way for Rutgers is junior center Clifford Omoruyi. He’s nearly averaging a double-double per game, scoring 13.4 points per game and grabbing an average of 9.9 rebounds.
Omoruyi notched a double-double the last time he played MSU, earning 12 points and 12 rebounds, both team highs.
The Scarlet Knights’ offense has found a bit of a groove of late, balancing inside play from players like Omoruyi and perimeter play from their lengthy, experienced guards.
“They’ve got great balance now,” Izzo said. “Omoruyi and (junior forward Mawot) Mag are inside guys, and of course (fifth-year senior guard Caleb) McConnell and (senior guard Paul) Mulcahy are their perimeter guys.”
Senior guard Cam Spencer is also playing at a high level, averaging 13.1 points per game and shooting over 40% from beyond the arch. He scored a team-high 17 points in Rutgers 90-55 win over Minnesota Wednesday night.
Tipoff at MSG is set for noon and the game will be televised on Fox.