Aaron Henry showed signs he might be Michigan State basketball’s Alpha presence.
Only to turn demure following a career performance that helped the 18th-ranked Spartans to a 84-77 victory Saturday night at Nebraska that snapped their three-game losing streak to start Big Ten play.
The 6-foot-6 junior swingman scored a personal-high 27 points. He attacked off the dribble and flashed a smooth jumper to go 10 of 16 from the field, scoring 17 in the first half and 10 in the first 10½ minutes of the second.
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“I may have scored more than other nights and it's probably one of my better nights,” said Henry, whose previous high was 20 points against LSU in the 2019 Elite Eight. “But I'm a team guy. The focus today was just to get a win.”
Henry also tied his career best with three 3-pointers on five attempts from behind the arc, despite making just 4 of 23 from 3-point range this season entering Saturday.
“I just told him that he did what we've been telling him to do,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “He drove the ball, he went off two feet. He has worked hard on his shooting, he made some 3s. But without those 3s, he still had 20 points. …
“He was the best player, and that's what he should be.”
Henry missed an early dunk attempt and his first three shots but recovered to score nine straight MSU points in the first half, including two 3-pointers, that gave the Spartans the lead for good. He also scored the final eight of the period, including a step-back jumper from the left corner set up by his behind-the-back dribble to create space, to make 6 of his final 7 going into halftime.
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Henry’s 3-pointer less than 2½ minutes into the second half gave MSU its biggest lead at 52-35. He also converted a three-point play in transition by running the lane for a layup and finishing through the foul.
But after his one-handed mid-post shot — set up by a spin-dribble move — with 9:29 to play gave MSU a 66-58 lead and stopped an 8-0 Nebraska run, Henry did not score again. However, he did provide a critical block with 4 minutes left that turned into a Joshua Langford jumper to put MSU back in front by 11. And with 1:57 remaining and the lead down to six points, Henry grabbed an offensive rebound on a Langford miss that turned into a Thomas Kithier layup.
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“I mean, I set a career high for myself, yeah that's fine and dandy,” Henry said. “But I want to win. That's all I care about.”
Henry finished with four rebounds, a steal and a block. He committed just two turnovers in 32 minutes. Izzo called him “a stabilizing factor.”
“He's getting to be now my best lockdown defender which I thought, that's what I thought would make him more of a Gary Harris-type player,” Izzo said. “So I was pleased with him, and I think he was pleased. I think he understands that those are the things you got to do if you're going to be a big-time player.”
Izzo said he felt junior Joey Hauser underperformed against the Cornhuskers, scoring just five points on 1-for-4 shooting in 20 minutes. But he also provided a potential caveat for why.
The 6-9 forward took two-handed shot to the face while defending a drive to the basket by Nebraska’s Trey McGowens with 3:02 to play in the first half.
Izzo said Hauser "got a tooth knocked out" on the play. He went to the bench with trainer Nick Richey, a towel on his mouth, and sat out the rest of the first half.
Hauser returned and played 9 minutes in the second period, missing his only shot attempt and making two free throws while committing two of his three turnovers. He grabbed five of his six rebounds in the final period.
After posting double-doubles in four of his first six games, Hauser has scored in single-digits in three of MSU’s last four games and has not grabbed more than seven rebounds in Big Ten play.
“Joey can play better,” Izzo said. “He's my big project this week, because he's a really good player. He's just been struggling.”
Langford hit 5 of 12 shots, including a critical putback with 40 seconds left, to finish with nine of his 16 points in the second half. The senior guard added two assists and two steals.
Junior forward Thomas Kithier scored seven points and grabbed three of his four rebounds on the offensive glass, including a follow dunk in transition on a Langford shot that was blocked with 5:03 to play. Kithier added a layup just before the shot clock expired with 1:40 remaining after Nebraska had cut the lead to six.
Junior swingman Gabe Brown came off the bench and scored 10 points, with a pair of 3-pointers and a steal and highlight reel dunk.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball: Aaron Henry 'stabilizing factor' in win