East Lansing, Mich. – Michigan State had a raucous big-game atmosphere on reunion day in East Lansing as dozens of former Spartan basketball players saw their team rally from an eight-point deficit in the second half to defeat No. 10 Illinois 88-80.
AJ Hoggard delivers complete-game performance: This game was the best that we’ve seen Hoggard play during his senior season. Hoggard was rock-solid in his role as distributor, essential in his role as a scorer against an Illinois team that doesn’t give up much behind the 3-point line. Hoggard was also really good on defense. Hoggard’s defense in this game was impactful and that was a departure from some of the casual play on defense we’ve seen from Hoggard as a senior. On a night where Tyson Walker was less than 100 percent due to a groin injury, Michigan State needed this game from it’s point guard.
Mismatches everywhere: Izzo describes Illinois as the most talented team in the Big Ten, and I have a hard time disagreeing with that assessment. Illinois is one of the bigger teams in the conference. The Fighting Illini have the ability to play different styles, and they also have the spacing and quality of shooters needed to punish opposing teams for helping out on defense. None of that mattered on Saturday, however, as Michigan State overcame those unfavorable mismatches, matched their opponent on the glass, and got the stops necessary to get a critical conference victory in a must-win game.
Malik Hall: After going just 1-for-6 from the free-throw line in a loss at Minnesota earlier this week, Hall played one of the best games of the year for Michigan State. Hall played a strong all-around game on defense and he scored some of the biggest baskets of the game for the Spartans. Then there were the free throws. Hall bounced back nicely going 7-for-9 at the free-throw line in this game.
Looking to sustain: Michigan State is looking to use this game against Illinois as a springboard to further success moving forward. To do so, however, the Spartans will need to play with the sense of urgency that was on display for 40 minutes in this game. Leadership will be required from both Hall and Hoggard. For Hoggard, that means not just answering a challenge coming off a bad performance, but being self-motivated and providing positive leadership.