1. It’s hard to explain how big of a win that was for MSU
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – That was a heckuva response from a Michigan State team that was suddenly reeling a bit. I wasn’t sure the Spartans had the horses or the grit to do anything about it on the road against a seasoned and sometimes prolific-shooting Penn State club.
Wednesday's 67-58 MSU win will make the next three weeks feel so much better. Because it was needed. Because it probably makes MSU believe a little again. Because a 6-4 record and 1-1 mark in the Big Ten somehow feels quite a bit different than 5-5 and 0-2. Same for 9-4 over 8-5, if MSU can beat Brown, Oakland and Buffalo the rest of December.
After suffering a bad loss Sunday, MSU got a good win. Against a capable Penn State team that was treating this as an opportunity to show what it had this season.
MSU’s most veteran players — AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser — delivered. Jaden Akins, in his second game back from injury, was more of a presence. And stubborn ol’ Tom Izzo turned to a four-guards-and-Hauser lineup down the stretch that countered Penn State’s advantages. It worked. MSU, which had struggled defensively shorthanded, held a Penn State team shooting 40% from long range to 29%. Izzo even played a couple possessions of zone at the end of the game.
That was a gutsy win. A win that stops the bleeding and changes the vibe. A win that Hauser described afterward as their biggest win of the season to this point.
As one MSU fan said walking up the stairs to leave the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday, “Whew, thank God they won.”
I think a lot of folks would echo that.
2. This is the AJ Hoggard that can be a problem in the Big Ten
AJ Hoggard on Wednesday night at Penn State looked more like the guy who gave Purdue fits in the Big Ten tournament than he has at any point since — 23 points, six rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, one steal, four massive free throws late and one athletic block in the final minute.
Hoggard, even in an up-and-down season, has produced eight or more assists five times in 10 games. That’s a huge part of his game. But he gave MSU what it needed Wednesday — buckets. The Spartans haven’t had enough juice offensively lately. He gave it to them by attacking Penn State’s weakness — its interior defense. In that sense, it was a game made for Hoggard. He delivered a career high in points. His previous high was 18 against Alabama. Before that, that Purdue game last March, when he had 17.
It was also an important showing from a guy who Tom Izzo looks to as the head of MSU's team and a guy Izzo didn’t start against Northwestern on Sunday to send a message that he needed more from him.
That was more.
3. Freshman takes – the Penn State edition
This was Jaxon Kohler’s best offensive game by a ways and a promising sign for a team that could use another offensive threat. Kohler on Wednesday looked more like a viable option than a threat. But this was progress. Kohler was an offensive post presence, showing an array of moves on the low and high blocks, with varying levels of success. He’s still leaving his hook shot well short sometimes — as if the rims are higher at this level. But a couple of those post moves resulted in buckets. As did a face-up jumper from the free-throw line.
His six points — all in the first half — came when the Spartans were struggling to find offense and just trying to hang in the game. MSU went to him, repeatedly. We also saw the other reason he eventually could be the sort of player MSU runs offense through — his court awareness and passing. When Penn State first double-teamed him on the block, he whipped a pass to an open Jaden Akins on the right wing for a 3-pointer, which brought MSU to within 25-24, the closest they’d been since the opening minutes. From there, the Spartans were in the fight.
Carson Cooper played just 51 seconds Wednesday. This wasn’t a game for him anyway, given the guard-heavy lineups Penn State features. But Tre Holloman did see significant time in the second half, giving a good spell during a stretch with several lead changes and then coming back for a while as part of MSU’s four-guards-around-Joey-Hauser lineup down the stretch. He had one memorable rebound and two assists in 10 minutes. Big minutes for a freshman in his first Big Ten road game.
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State basketball wins at Penn State: 3 quick takes