In one of its toughest tests of the season on Friday, Michigan State’s men’s basketball team faltered on the road. Four days later, the Spartans rebounded at home against their chief rival.
MSU’s 81-62 triumph over the Michigan Wolverines on Tuesday night was extra special – it marked head coach Tom Izzo’s 700th career win, on his 69th birthday. Izzo is now 33-21 in his career against Michigan.
It wasn’t pretty for a while, but the Spartans handled business against a Michigan team on track for its worst season in over 15 years. The Wolverines jumped out to an early lead and held it through the first half, but spiraled in the second. MSU took advantage, tightened the screws, stormed ahead and never looked back.
Michigan State dominated inside, out-scoring the Wolverines 48-18 in the paint. The Spartans also cleaned up their rebounding, nearly tripling their rebounding total from the first half in the second.
Michigan State junior guard Jaden Akins was the story for the Spartans from start to finish, putting up a career-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 7-for-10 from beyond the arc. A.J. Hoggard reached 1,000 career points in his 15-point, seven-assist outing.
Without Michigan's sophomore guard and leading scorer Dug McDaniel, who could not play due to academic reasons, the pathway to victory in a loud, jam-packed Breslin Center was always going to be difficult for Michigan. The Wolverines entered Friday night with a 7-13 overall record and a league-worst 2-7 conference record.
For the Spartans to feel satisfied leaving the building, they needed to not just win, but win handily. The likelihood of this coming to fruition dwindled as the opening minutes went on – the Wolverines came out of the gate swinging. A first half in which Michigan shot 60% from the field saw the Wolverines with a slight two-point advantage heading into the locker room, with a lead of 35-33.
Michigan got the first licks, converting on 11 of its first 14 field goals and 3-for-4 from deep to open up an early nine-point lead. MSU responded, cutting the deficit to as little as three, but couldn’t come away with stops.
The Spartans grabbed just five defensive rebounds in the first half, adding to the common theme of rebounding struggles for MSU in recent weeks. Michigan capitalized on four offensive rebounds for eight second-chance points. At one point, the Wolverines hit eight straight shots. Michigan’s 35-33 lead at the half proved that MSU had its hands full for the second half in a must-win scenario.
In a matter of minutes following the halftime break, MSU’s two-point deficit became a 10-point advantage.
The Spartans came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. They got their heralded running game going, as guards Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard scored layups in transition to give MSU its first lead since early in the first half.
Then, Akins drilled two threes from the left wing that each took the roof off the Breslin Center.
With a sudden double-digit lead, MSU kept its foot on the gas. The Spartans did an outstanding job defensively relative to their first-half showing, forcing a five-minute Michigan field goal drought and increasing their lead to 15. Akins knocked down another three to reach 20 points.
He would hit another before all was said it done to reach a new career high in points. The Spartans did their job late and coasted to a 19-point win.
Michigan State continues to wade through the Big Ten season, hosting Maryland on Saturday, followed by a bout with Minnesota the following Tuesday. The Spartans have already beaten both squads this season.
Michigan State and Maryland will tip off on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center. The game will be aired on FOX.
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