Within the first ten seconds of Tuesday night’s Big Ten showdown, graduate student forward Joey Hauser sank two quick points, kicking off MSU’s hot start turned 15-0 run in the initial five minutes of play.
The Terrapins slowly crept back, but the green and white managed to hold their opponent to a nine-point lead at the half.
Once the second half began MSU’s offensive efforts came to a halt and it fell into an all too familiar pattern, allowing Maryland to sneak back up, ultimately shortening a once 15-point lead down to three with 33 seconds ticking down.
A much needed Spartan win was made possible by two big free throws from senior guard A.J. Hoggard, followed by a lob down the court to senior forward Malik Hall who then dished the ball over to sophomore guard Jaden Akins for an explosive dunk to seal the win.
“We came out how we wanted to come out and then we had a little lull in the second half,” Akins said. “Started to make that run and we closed strong to get the win, by any means necessary.”
The Spartans successfully hung on against Maryland, but that doesn’t change the second half stretch that almost cost them the game, a sight that has become all too familiar over the course of the 2022-23 season.
After a feeble offensive performance against No. 24 Rutgers throughout the entirety of the showdown on Saturday, the Spartans got off to a quick start at home. In spite of a killer second half lull, the Spartans came together to bring home a much needed conference victory in a league with so little variation in standings.
“I thought that second half stretch was disgusting, but I thought most of the game we played damn good,” Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo said.
Although MSU’s offense slowed, its defense remained intact. Turnovers were minimal in the opening minutes, but started to pick up down the stretch.
Players like Hauser and senior guard Tyson Walker kept MSU in the game on Tuesday, making up a combined 37 of its 63 total game points. With the shortened rotation, the Spartans rely heavily on the two (and Hoggard) to play big minutes. When one of them gets into foul trouble early on, it’s difficult to make up for the gap on an already condensed roster.
Izzo mentioned that Hall twisted his foot at the start of practice on Monday, causing him to sit out on practice. Hall’s lack of preparedness and the challenge of reintroducing him to the lineup was evident on Tuesday night.
Hall, a player who often carries the team on the offensive end has been off his game against Rutgers and most recently versus Maryland.
“With the offense he seems out of sync because he’s never able to practice yet,” Izzo said. “Yet he’s healthy, it just happens. It’s happened three times now. If we get him healthy, I still think this team is good enough to make some runs, I really do.”
The Spartans will head to Columbus to go head-to-head with Ohio State on. Sunday, Feb. 12. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m.
Another impressive start offensively would be beneficial, but it means nothing if the green and white can’t finish what they start, especially in a league where it’s nearly impossible to win on the road.
"The hell will starts,” Izzo said. “Don’t ever tell me about starts, don’t ever tell me about middles. The one thing that matters in this game is that you finish the job. Period.”