EAST LANSING Nothing was easy about basketball in Michigan. Minnesota made sure of it at their second meeting of the season.
Marcus Bingham Jr. and Tyson Walker were relegated to the bench midway through the second half. The Gophers continued to counterattack any time the ninth-ranked Spartans seemed to be gaining momentum.
That left the match in the hands of AJ Hoggard, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall. And they delivered.
Hoggard drove and bowled to Hauser with 0.1 remaining on the clock to score a 71-69 escape against Gopher on Wednesday night, the Spartans’ ninth straight win in their first game in a week.
Michigan State University players stormed the bench to attack Hoggard and Hauser after the trumpet sounded seconds later.
“It was one of those weird, special moments in a game where you didn’t play well,” said Michigan State University coach Tom Ezo. “And yet I won.” “However, they acted like we just won the National Championship. And I think that wasn’t the game, so much as the situation. And that was cool.”
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Max Christie scored 16 points with five rebounds and four assists to lead MSU (14-2, 5-0). Gabe Brown added 13 points and Walker 10.
But when it came to spending time, it was the unspoken trio of Hoggard, Hall and Hauser that took the lead.
Hall scored all seven of his points after checking in for the first time in the second half with 16:13 to play. Bingham went to the bench at 10:14 to play, and Hall and Hauser took over.
Hoggard had five points and three assists after the break, playing the final 10:43 after Walker went off the bench. It’s unclear why Bingham Walker didn’t return, but Walker asked to be kicked out and suffered a severe fall earlier in the match, altering his ankle.
Hauser, who has been damaged for most of the past two years, has made all three shots in the second half — no bigger than a finger high in traffic after Hoggard’s dish through the trees. He finished with eight points in a 4-5 shootout with five rebounds.
“The locker room – they were happy for Joey, which is so cool… I was happy for him too,” Izu said. “But when players are happy to have a player, it’s very special.”
Eric Curry had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead Minnesota (10-4, 1-4), which lost three points in a row. EJ Stevens added 18 points, Jamison Battle added 13 points and seven boards, Peyton Willis added 15 points and five rebounds. Wednesday’s Gophers entered 349th out of 350 teams in offensive rebounds per game and 331st in rebounding margin, but gave the great-minded Tom Izzo all they could handle on the glass. Minnesota finished with a 12-6 lead on offensive rebounds and a 17-8 advantage in second chance points.
“The fight that I thought our guys had to get to that point, there were a few times in that game they could have folded easily,” said Minnesota coach Ben Johnson. “This is a tough place to play… they keep coming and giving us a chance, and that’s all you can ask of us.”
MSU appeared on its way to another masterful performance in the first half. Then things collapsed during the last five minutes.
Bingham Walker and Christie both started strong as the Spartans dictated the rhythm and tone early on. These three combined for 16 of the Spartans’ first 18 points, with Christie’s bounce and return followed by a 3 pointer in the transition resulting in a 14-3 mid-stroke. Brown’s pair of free throws put MSU in a 27-17 lead with 5:09 remaining.
But Minnesota crashed and took advantage of the Spartans’ defensive collapses on the glass. The Gophers had six of 11 points on the second chance in the final 4:41, with Charlie Daniels’ rebounds and layup, leading a 14-7 to close out the inning.
Izu went to the bench 6.6secs before the end of the break to use Davis Smith in a foul situation. But the second-year student was late in the first, which was whistled on Brown, and then took the second with 2.6 marks. He went to the bench, and Willis hit a three-pointer on the bell to cut the Spartans’ lead to 34-31 before the break.
The Gophers made six of their last eight shots in the first half after opening the 7-for-20 game, while MSU went in the 2:38 without a field goal.
Stevens had 10 points in the first half and hit the first set at halftime to pull Minnesota by two points. And it stayed that way for most of the first 10 minutes, as the Spartans showed signs of life with four points and then five straight points from Walker, only for the Gopher to quickly find an answer both times.
Minnesota led the way for the first time since 6:45 when Battle exhausted a corner jump and Curry hit a free throw to put MSU behind, 52-51. But the Spartans saved it 6-1 that included 3-pointers from Hall, who had 15 points in their 75-67 win on Dec. 8 in Minneapolis but was goalless on Wednesday until that basket.
Hall added to that with two players and Christie added another to build the Spartans’ lead to six with six minutes to play. But Minnesota won’t disappear until the last bell rings.
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