Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Preview: Michigan State heads to Nebraska in final road trip of regular season

February 28, 2023
<p>Graduate foward Joey Hauser (10) and Junior center Mady Sissoko (22) at the Iowa v. MSU game held at the Breslin Center on Jan. 26, 2023, The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes 61-63.</p>

Graduate foward Joey Hauser (10) and Junior center Mady Sissoko (22) at the Iowa v. MSU game held at the Breslin Center on Jan. 26, 2023, The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes 61-63.

Photo by Denille Reid | The State News

Michigan State is headed to Nebraska this Tuesday in its final road trip and penultimate game of the regular season. 

The Spartans are coming off one of the more deflating losses in recent memory. Things were going great for Michigan State in its road trip to Iowa - for about 38 minutes. Up by double-digits with less than a minute left, victory was all but assured for the visitors. 

Then, the Hawkeyes came storming back. Iowa made five straight three-pointers to tie up the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the game into overtime. That momentum carried into the extra period, and Iowa completed its improbable comeback with a 112-106 OT victory. 

“Saturday is one of the biggest losses, toughest losses in my years here,” Michigan State head men's basketball coach Tom Izzo said. “The effort of our team that they gave was phenomenal until those last two minutes.”

It’s hard to be too positive about a game like that. But despite the disastrous finish, there were still some impressive performances from the Spartans. 

Topping that list is senior guard Tyson Walker. He notched a season-high 31 points against Iowa, driving to the net, scoring from the mid-range and splashing a pair of threes. Walker has reached double-digit point totals for six straight games now. 

“Tyson has been on a rampage,” Izzo said.

Walker wasn’t the only one shooting lights out Saturday afternoon. Sophomore guard Jaden Akins notched 21 points, also a season-high. Junior guard A.J. Hoggard finished strong after a weak first half and graduate student forward Joey Hauser racked up 18 points. It was the best the offense has looked all season. 

But again, those stellar performances were soured by such a brutal finish. And the Big Ten schedule keeps marching on. 

“There’s no time to dwell on it, we play one of the hottest leagues in the team tomorrow,” Izzo said.

Scouting the opponent

As it stands, Nebraska is only above Ohio State and Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. However, the Huskers are hot – they’ve collected wins over the likes of Rutgers and Maryland in the midst of a three-game winning streak. 

As the Spartans learned last Saturday against Iowa, road wins aren’t easy to come by in the Big Ten. To make matters worse, it’s the last home game of the regular season for Nebraska – senior day. 

“Being senior day, they’ve got some seniors that have been through a lot,” Izzo said. “They’ll be a challenge for us on a special day for them.”

Huskers senior forward Derrick Walker will be one to keep an eye on Tuesday night. He leads the team in points (13.9) and rebounds (7.2) per game. He’s efficient, sporting a 58.7% field goal percentage, the second best in the Big Ten. Walker is the sort of do-it-all big that has given Michigan State (and the rest of the league) fits throughout the season. He scored a team-high 15 points against MSU back in early January. 

“Walker is a very, very good player, one of the better big men in our league,” Izzo said. “He doesn’t just score in the post, he does stuff off the dribble.”

Right behind Walker in points per game is junior guard Keisei Tominaga, averaging 12.6 a game. He’s quick, shoots over 40% from beyond the arc and has the second highest free-throw percentage on the team (86.7%). 

“Tominaga has been phenomenal,” Izzo said. “He’s making shots from all over.”

Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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