No. 7 seed Michigan State’s season ended in heartbreaking, overtime fashion to No. 3 seed Kansas State on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, when the Wildcats defeated the Spartans, 98-93, to advance to the Elite Eight.
It’s a loss that stings for every Spartan involved, especially given how hard this Michigan State team fought every time Kansas State appeared to deliver a finishing blow. In the end, Kansas State made just a few more plays to end Michigan State’s season in New York City.
Most players understandably take a while to reflect on a loss like this one, after grinding through a back-and-forth game over the course of a few hour span. That’s true for A.J. Hoggard, who struggled to comprehend the end of this season as he attempted to look toward the future.
“When you come to Michigan State you’re supposed to do things like this,” Hoggard said. “I’m just so happy I could do it with this group of guys. There’s definitely hope around the corner but just right now it just stings to even think about the future.”
Walker and Hauser repeated the phrase “coach is coach” after the game, referring to Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo’s winning reputation in the month of March. It was exemplified by this team, who upset No. 2 seed Marquette to make Izzo’s 15th-career Sweet 16.
Walker and Hauser are confident that next year’s team, led by Izzo, will have as good a chance as any to make it even further in the NCAA Tournament.
“He makes runs,” Walker said. “He’s got a good group of guys coming in, (he’s got) good guys still here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it again and goes even further.”
“Coach is coach,” Hauser said. “He knows how to win these games. I’m glad we got a little bit of a taste of it, but these guys have an incredible team coming back next year. Definitely, they’ll try to make a run and get even farther.”
While Walker and Hauser are both seniors, they still have a chance to come back next year. Walker can use his extra year of eligibility granted to all players who played through the COVID-19 pandemic, while Hauser can apply for a medical hardship waiver. No official decisions have been made yet, though Hauser has previously indicated that he will likely not return.
If this was Walker and Hauser’s last game as a Spartan, then they left it all out on the floor in a long-lasting, intense game under some of the brightest lights they’ve seen since arriving at Michigan State.
Walker scored 16 points on 38 percent shooting from the field (57 percent from three), with five assists and three turnovers in 41 minutes played. Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell was a tough guard all night for Walker and company, but Walker rebounded from a quiet start to hit some big shots at the end of the game, including a driving, scooping layup with :05 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Hauser scored 18 points on 45 percent shooting (44 percent from three), also grabbing six rebounds in the loss. He played most of the second half with three fouls, but managed to stay in it and hit a three-pointer to give Michigan State a 70-67 lead with 7:53 to play after Nowell made a pair of free throws to tie it the possession earlier.
But Kansas State made one more stop than Michigan State when it mattered most, on the last play of the game. Both Hauser and Malik Hall passed up shots before the ball ended up in Walker’s hands. Nowell stripped Walker, though, and took it to the other end of the court for a layup at the buzzer to win the game.
“(It’s) a game of runs,” Walker said. “People make shots, you’ve just got to respond. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen people make shots, and then we came down and made shots. It wasn’t like we didn’t shoot it well today. We shot really well. We just didn’t get stops, that’s really it.
“I wish we would be having practice tomorrow, but we don’t. We played hard. We put some games together. You can’t be mad about it.”
“This time of year is about who’s going to make plays at the right time,” Hoggard said. “We didn’t get the stops that we needed when we needed them and they capitalized off of that.”
“It just sucks right now, but everybody played their butts off, so you can’t hang your head,” Hauser said.
Hall, a senior, also has a decision to make about his future and whether or not to come back using his COVID-19 year. Graduate walk-on Jason Whitens is the other senior on Michigan State’s roster, but other than those four, Michigan State has the ability to return the rest of its roster next season.
Michigan State will add to that experienced group the No. 5-ranked high school recruiting class according to the On3 Industry Rankings. It’s a class headlined by five-star center Xavier Booker and four-stars Jeremy Fears (point guard), Gehrig Normand (wing) and Coen Carr (forward).
As nice as that may sound for Michigan State fans, Izzo is aware that in this era of college basketball, rosters can change in a heartbeat. He’ll have to manage another offseason of potential NBA Draft declarations, transfer portal moves and NIL decisions before arriving at a concrete roster and coaching staff for the 2023-24 season.
Part of the decisions that are made before next season will revolve around the competition within the ever-improving Big Ten Conference, which Izzo feels is the best in the nation.
“We’ve got to live with it,” Izzo said of the loss. “You’ve got to own it. The key is now can you learn from it, and that’ll be the challenge because our league is not getting any worse. Too many damn good coaches. And so next year will be another challenging year. And as you know, after we play musical chairs here and let all the people figure out who’s going where and what’s going to happen, we’ll sit down and see who we got, who we get to coach, and see if we can make a magical run only a little farther than we did this year.”