EAST LANSING – Tom Izzo expected a rock fight and got one.
Rutgers pounded the boards all night. But Michigan State’s basketball defense swarmed the Scarlet Knights despite all their second chances, and the Spartans put on an old-fashioned show at a time when they needed to win.
With a turning point for freshman Jaxon Kohler.
Kohler helped MSU overcome early post trouble by setting career highs with 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Spartans’ harder-than-looked 70-57 win Thursday night at Breslin Center, a reviving performance after two consecutive losses.
“It shows our growth with our guys,” said point guard AJ Hoggard. “And even our young lads are just coming forward tonight, with Jaxon coming in with a double-double. He didn’t really play much in the last two games, his minutes went down a bit more than usual. For him to just react like that , it just shows you what kind of team we have, what kind of people we have in this locker room.
“So it just means a lot to us to bounce back like that.”
MSU (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) held Rutgers to 2-for-17 3-point shooting as the Spartans capitalized on making 12 of 22 from deep. AJ Hoggard (16 points), Joey Hauser (13 points), Tyson Walker (12 points) and Jaden Akins (11 points) each had three 3-pointers.
It will be another quick turnaround for MSU, who travels to Indiana for a Sunday afternoon tip on CBS.
“It was good that we only had two days to really digest and we had to move on immediately,” said Hauser, who added six rebounds and four assists. “We couldn’t dwell on that loss to Purdue. It took a lot out of us, especially because we were one with the last possession. But we had to move on right away, and that’s what we have to do on Sunday.”
Kohler went 6-for-9 from the floor, helping the Spartans to paint Rutgers’ 34-20 scoring advantage. The Scarlet Knights also held a 42-34 rebound advantage, including an 18-6 lead on the offensive glass that led to a 15-4 margin in rebound points.
“A rock fight, that means very physical, very tough games. Grinding games. We’re getting a little bit better at it,” said Izzo. “But I’m glad we won and we stepped on our toes.”
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Clifford Omoruyi had 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Paul Mulcahy scored 12 and Caleb McConnell 11 for Rutgers (13-6, 5-3). Leading scorer Cam Spencer went 3-for-14 and scored eight runs, missing seven three-pointers in a row before hitting one late. The Scarlet Knights only made 34.4% of their shots.
Slow to sizzling
As they did in Monday’s 64-63 loss to Purdue, building a 24-11 lead early on, the Spartans got off to another abysmal start.
They did this this time by getting hammered in and onto the boards by the Scarlet Knights, who got some Omoruyi dunks to start the game and hit 6 of 12 shots to build a 14-5 lead in the first 6:03. Rutgers had an 8–3 lead on the glass early on, capped by a three-point play from Mawot Mag at the first media timeout.
Right after that, Walker hit a 3-pointer right after to start a 12-2 run that was capped by another 3 from Hoggard, with some handy Kohler post moves for layups in between. It was that outdoor shooting that set the tone for how MSU got back in the game and overcame the advantage the Scarlet Knights built into the paint.
Walker scored six consecutive points on a conventional three-point play and his second three-pointer before drawing his second foul and sitting the final 5:46.
Hoggard turned it over to McConnell, who took it in transition for a layup that set Rutgers back one run. But Hoggard answered with a strong final piece before halftime, hitting a deep three-pointer before the shot clock expired at 3:58. Hauser drank out another 3, then Hoggard set Akins up for another from behind the arc as MSU took a 36-30 lead into halftime.
The Spartans gave up nine rebound points as the Scarlet Knights held a 10-4 lead on the offensive glass and a 21-16 rebounding margin at the break. Rutgers also had an 18-12 lead at the post.
MSU made 7 of 13 3-pointers and limited the Scarlet Knights to just 1-for-10 from behind the line. The Spartans hit 7 of 10 shots in the final 7 minutes as they shut out Rutgers at 3-for-15 in the final 8 minutes.
“I thought we looked good, and they gave us a hard time at times,” said Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell. “We really had to attack the glass as a secondary way to score. … I don’t know if they shot the ball better from 3s this season. They made 3s, and we didn’t.”
MSU’s recovering woes continued after halftime, as the Scarlet Knights grabbed four offensive boards on their first possession of the second half, which ended in an Omoruyi rebound and putback dunk.
Kohler again replaced starting center Mady Sissoko, and he quickly got a defensive backboard, then finished inside with a layup at the other end. And Izzo went with Kohler and Carson Cooper along with fellow freshman point guard Tre Holloman during one stretch, got a solid defense and recovered from his young big men during that stretch.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Kohler recorded a career-high 23 minutes and 23 seconds; he played just 13 minutes combined in MSU’s past three games against Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue.
“Being there with my teammates really made us want to be on the field more,” said Kohler, who added a career-best three blocked shots.
Rutgers cut it to a two-point lead on two free throws by Omoruyi on Hauser’s third foul, but Akins grabbed an offensive backboard on the other side and kicked it out to Holloman, whose off-balance dart from a pass found Sissoko for a layup. .
After Walker waved off a 3-pointer by a Rutgers foul before the shot initially bounced Breslin, Akins got a steal from Mulcahy and took it the length of the court for a two-handed dunk that once again sent the crowd into hysterics. and caused a Scarlet Knights timeout.
MSU’s defense got two stops and a Kohler baseline jumper and Hoggard’s third 3-pointer to build its lead back to 50-41 with 11:06 left. The Spartans continued to smother Rutgers’ shooters as Spencer missed three three-point attempts as the Scarlet Knights went 0-for-6 from deep after halftime until Spencer hit one with 10.8 seconds left to decide the outcome.
Hoggard finished with seven assists, but made four of MSU’s 10 turnovers. Akins filled the stats with five rebounds, four assists, a career-high four steals and a block. The Spartans had 19 assists on their 26 baskets, and the 12 3-pointers trailed only the 13 they recorded in wins over Villanova and Portland in November.
“It was about time we got shots,” said Walker, who hit 3-for-5 from deep on Thursday and only 4-for-10 overall. “It’s always one person taking pictures and no one else. Today everyone took pictures.”
Contact Chris Solari:email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
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matchup: Michigan State (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) at Indiana (11-6, 2-4).
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