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INDIANAPOLIS — Max Christie put on a three-level show of his skills to impress the ghosts inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Michigan State basketball's freshman showed off his 3-point shooting prowess and flashed his midrange game with a feathery touch. But it was Christie’s assertiveness in traffic in Wednesday’s 73-52 win at Butler that got coach Tom Izzo fired up most about his young shooting guard.
“I tried to come into the game a little more assertive, be more aggressive looking for myself,” Christie said after scoring a season-best 18 points. “But at the same time, my teammates found me in the right spots, and I had to knock down some shots.”
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound five-star rookie went 6-for-9 from the field, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in a team-high 32 minutes. His breakout performance against the Bulldogs comes after Christie opened his career with a 3-for-10 shooting performance and nine points in 31 minutes in a loss No. 3 Kansas at Madison Square Garden. He posted six points and six rebounds in a win over Western Michigan but made just 2 of 8 shots.
“I got on him the first game, and he looked at me kind of strange. And then I realized, why wouldn't he? I haven't been on him since he got here. It's not even any fun to coach him sometimes,” MSU coach Tom Izzo jokingly said. “So I asked the team, 'Who am I on the least?' They said Max, and I said why? They answered the same way I did: 'Because he doesn't do a lot of things wrong.'
“He's solid as the day is long. He's gonna be a special player.
Senior captain Gabe Brown has been equally as impressed as his coach with what he has seen from Christie three games into his college career.
“He's a pro. At the end of the day, he's a pro,” Brown said. “I mean, he does everything right. He does his job every single day, he comes in, he works – works more than more than a lot of people that you would know. … He drinks his water, he gets his rest.
“He does he does everything right. Like, literally, everything right. I've never seen a kid that does everything right.”
It was Christie’s attacking both from the wing and top of the key off the dribble, though, that really stood out offensively.
In the first half, he caught a pass from point guard Tyson Walker and penetrated, elevating and floating a one-handed shot from inside the free-throw line for his first basket.
A minute later, Christie gave his defender a head-and-shoulders fake at the arc after taking an A.J. Hoggard pass in transition, then used his long strides to zip through the lane for a layup.
Christie had nine points at halftime and continued his inside work in the second. It included one of his two rebounds in which he elevated over two other big men and snagged the board and drew a foul. His teammates and Izzo immediately erupted in enthusiastic approval.
It was one of a team high five fouls drawn by Christie, who also went 4 of 5 at the free-throw line.
“I think everybody was really excited because I really went up and got it,” he said. “I think it was a really big possession, a really big play to get that rebound.”
That board came during the Spartans’ put-away 13-2 run in which Christie hit his second 3-pointer and made perhaps his most impressive drive and maturing moment.
As the shot clock started to churn, Christie collected his dribble after a bit of a flub on a catch in MSU’s motion offense. He pulled the ball back out and called for a high ball screen. Marcus Bingham Jr. popped out and set the pick, and Christie knifed past four Butler defenders by accelerating through to finish at the rim with a layup before they knew he had blown by them.
Christie laughed and shrugged off Brown’s high praise as he sat next to him.
“I don't think it's possible to be perfect. I mean, I make mistakes all the time, of course,” Christie said sheepishly. “I do a lot of things wrong. He's just giving me compliments, and I appreciate him for it. But I don't do everything right.”
At least for one night, inside the Midwest Mecca of basketball, he did.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: MSU basketball's Max Christie shows tantalizing skills in win