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Michigan State’s offense humming heading into Big Ten Tournament, finishes season strong against Ohio State

March 5, 2023
<p>Senior guard A.J Hoggard takes a shot against Ohio State on March 4, 2023.</p>

Senior guard A.J Hoggard takes a shot against Ohio State on March 4, 2023.

Photo by Henry Szymecko | The State News

Just a few short weeks ago, Michigan State took on Ohio State on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Columbus. It was a comically ugly affair. Both teams shot under 50% from the field (OSU shot just 28.3%) and bricks were aplenty. Neither offense could really put together consistent offensive series.

Ultimately, the visiting Spartans came away with a 62-41 victory, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. The offense did enough to secure a comfortable victory, and that’s about it. 

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, where MSU hosted OSU in its last game of the regular season. This time, it was a race to 80 points, the antithesis of the two team’s prior matchup. The offenses played with tempo and speed, especially in the first half, and both teams shot over 40% from beyond the arc. 

Saturday afternoon’s offense-based win over Ohio State would’ve been an outlier for Michigan State earlier in the season, when the Spartans seemed more comfortable with rock fights and defensive showdowns to win conference games. 

However, MSU’s offense seems to have figured something out in the past few weeks. The senior day win against the Buckeyes to wrap up the regular season was just more proof that a switch might have been flipped for the Spartans.

“I think we’re coming into our own now,” Head coach Tom Izzo said. “We’re averaging 81 points in the last five or six games.” 

Michigan State has not scored less than 72 points since that ugly win against Ohio State back on Feb. 12. In the five games following that win, MSU is averaging 84.4 points. The season average is just over 70 points a game. 

Sure, there were portions against Ohio State where the offense looked choppy and out of sorts. But those poor stretches were overshadowed by a strong start and multiple runs throughout the game. 

What’s changed in the last few weeks? Well, it seems like the offense is finally playing with consistency, confidence and chemistry. It’s not just graduate student forward Joey Hauser and/or senior guard Tyson Walker carrying the offense on their backs; a few other key pieces of the lineup are showing their offensive potential. MSU is consistently getting double-digits from multiple players. 

“Guys are definitely confident, everyone’s making shots,” junior guard A.J. Hoggard said. “We had four players in double-digits. I feel like it’s going to be hard to beat us.” 

However, Walker and Hauser are still the team’s offensive juggernauts. Walker has been especially lethal of late; he’s averaging 19.8 points per game in his last five games. He scored 15 against Ohio State, also notching six assists. Hauser is averaging 16.8 in the Spartans’ last five; he scored 16 Saturday afternoon. 

Although Walker and Hauser have been electric this year, it was a junior that stole the show against Ohio State. Hoggard did a fantastic job running the court, keeping the tempo high and dishing the ball to his open teammates. By the end of the afternoon, Hoggard had seven assists and just one turnover. 

“He just puts us in a position to be successful,” sophomore guard Jaden Akins said. “He’s got a high basketball IQ and knows how to play the game, so it’s just easy to play with.”

Hoggard wasn’t afraid to score himself. Driving the basket frequently and notching a pair of threes, Hoggard was a scoring threat all afternoon long. He had ice in his veins down the stretch, scoring nine of MSU’s last 10 points as the Buckeyes were forced to foul. 

Akins is also an important piece of the puzzle. He completes a group of guards that, with Hoggard and Walker, is one of the stronger units in the conference. 

In the offseason, Izzo made it clear that he thought Akins had the potential to be one of the stronger players on the roster. His season was railroaded early by injury, but he’s gotten things back on track of late. Akins is averaging 17 points per game in his last three, scoring a season-high 21 points against Iowa. He notched 13 against the Buckeyes. 

“Seeing another guy be confident in himself and go out there and score and produce is fun, especially Jaden,” Hoggard said. “He’s been coming around these past couple of games. That’s definitely what we need from him to do what we want to do.” 

Now, the offensive improvement is certainly a positive sign for Michigan State, especially when it’s coming from multiple players. But the team is just 3-2 in its last five. The defense, which has been stout for most of the season, is not quite where it once was. 

“Our defense has been kind of a let down these past couple of games,” Hauser said. “It’s not every game that you’re going to shoot that well. Defensively, we’ve got to get better. Rebounding as well.” 

With the Big Ten and likely NCAA Tournaments around the corner, Michigan State is not yet a complete team. While the offense looks to be surging, the defense has regressed and there have been some issues finishing games (the disastrous collapse against Iowa comes to mind).

However, there aren’t many teams in the country that are complete. Michigan State is showing that it's capable offensively and proved earlier in the season that the defensive upside is high. 

“If you’re shooting the ball this good, we should be able to regain our defense, because we’ve been there two-thirds of the year,” Izzo said.

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