Michigan State basketball: Joey Hauser finally scoring as guards start locking up

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MINNEAPOLIS — Eric Curry backed Joey Hauser down to the block, but Michigan State basketball’s forward held his ground and altered the shot with a hand in Curry’s face then grabbed the defensive rebound.

Hauser flipped the ball ahead to A.J. Hoggard to push the Spartans’ pace. Two dribbles later, just inside the arc, Hoggard pulled up and shoveled the ball back to the trailing Hauser for a 3-pointer.

Catch in rhythm, elevate, smooth shot. Nothing but net.

Doing the little things sometimes can allow a player to reap the rewards.

Dec 8, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser (10) shoots the ball as Minnesota Gophers forward Jamison Battle (10) guards him during the second half at Williams Arena.
Dec 8, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser (10) shoots the ball as Minnesota Gophers forward Jamison Battle (10) guards him during the second half at Williams Arena.

It was an accumulation of tiny victories for Hauser during No. 20 MSU’s 75-67 win Wednesday night at Minnesota, a much-needed confidence boost after a few weeks of struggles. The 6-foot-9 senior forward scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, one of which was credited to Tyson Walker.

It was Hauser’s best performance since a 12-point, 12-rebound showing in the second game of the season against Western Michigan on Nov. 12.

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“This was Joey's best all-around game, and I'm really happy for him,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo, who in recent weeks has been critical of fans’ treatment of Hauser. “He's been through hell, (it) happens to some players. But he's bouncing back.”

While Hauser’s shots hadn’t been falling coming into the game, he has been an active rebounder. After a pass from Walker hit him in the face in the first minute of the game, Hauser quickly shook it off and attacked the glass on both ends.

Hauser’s other make came from 3-point range midway through the second half to put the Spartans ahead by 19, their largest margin. He did force a deep shot that missed with 3:38 to play while the Gophers were making a late run to cut MSU’s lead to single digits, but Hauser still led the Spartans with a plus-18 rating for the game.

Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser (10) and Minnesota Gophers guard Payton Willis (0) fight for the ball during the first half at Williams Arena on Dec. 8, 2021.
Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser (10) and Minnesota Gophers guard Payton Willis (0) fight for the ball during the first half at Williams Arena on Dec. 8, 2021.

Izzo credited Hauser for the job he and Malik Hall did guarding Minnesota’s Jamison Battle, who scored 17 points but on just 5-for-14 shooting.

“I mean, he gets 17, but they were well-earned 17,” Izzo said. “And that was, I thought, the big difference in the game. … (Hauser) did a hell of a job. Battle still hit some shots at the end, but not on Joey. And I thought Joey did a hell of a job on him, which surprised me a little bit.”

Jaden Akins flying

Michigan State guard Jaden Akins (3) blocks a shot by Minnesota guard Payton Willis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis.
Michigan State guard Jaden Akins (3) blocks a shot by Minnesota guard Payton Willis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis.

Jaden Akins continues to make one athletic play after another.

The 6-4 freshman soared for a blocked shot on Minnesota’s final possession of the first half, keeping MSU’s lead at 13 going into intermission. But it was a second-half chase-down that stunned the Gophers more.

Akins missed a 3-pointer with 13:17 left, then got caught near his own 3-point line going the wrong direction as he followed his shot while the long rebound kicked out and rolled past midcourt.

Minnesota’s Payton Willis tracked it down on the wing on the right sideline in front of his bench and appeared to have a breakaway. But Akins, who reversed his momentum quickly, raced back and swooped high as Willis went up for the layup and missed.

MSU got the defensive rebound, and Gabe Brown hit a 3-pointer at the other end to stun the Williams Arena crowd momentarily.

“That was a hell of a play…,” Izzo said. “Those are game-changing. Those are deflating from their standpoint and uplifting from ours, and that makes a big difference.”

Akins wasn’t credited with a block on the play, but Izzo felt he got a piece of the ball with his Tayshaun Prince-like recovery.

“The chase-down was a big one because they would have been on the run, but then he blocked it,” Walker said. “And then we came down to score, so that was a big block right there.”

Brown also made an athletic recovery to block a layup attempt Minnesota’s E.J. Stephens from behind on a cut to the basket in the first half. The Spartans swatted six shots, with three of them coming from an unlikely source — freshman guard Max Christie.

Brown said MSU’s defensive tenacity has taken a turn upward with Walker, Akins and Christie.

“It starts off with the point guards. I mean, they're lockdown defenders,” Brown said of Walker and Hoggard. “Max is a lockdown defender, and I just do my job. It really starts off with Tyson. Tyson's the head honcho the group, so we just follow his lead. “

Big man dinged up

Michigan State guard Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) is fouled by Minnesota forward Charlie Daniels during the second half an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis.
Michigan State guard Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) is fouled by Minnesota forward Charlie Daniels during the second half an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis.

Typically a bigger source of blocks, Marcus Bingham Jr. had just one in his 15 minutes, 43 seconds. The senior center appeared to land awkwardly while missing a shot in transition, which sent him to the bench for a spell. He did return and finished with six points and three rebounds.

"I think Marky has been kind of a little up and down," Izzo said after practice Thursday. "We started the game, we wanted to go inside a lot, but he couldn't find that position."

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball: Joey Hauser, Jaden Akins improve