Graduate student guard Tyson Walker led the way for MSU with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Outside of Walker, it was a balanced Spartan attack offensively. Walker’s performance showcased the kind of balance and stability MSU needs from its eldest guard mixed with explosive scoring bursts.
Senior guard AJ Hoggard bounced back from his struggles against Duke with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. Graduate student forward Malik Hall also had an efficient night, scoring 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting and snagging nine rebounds.
It was the kind of performance from MSU’s veteran leaders that the Spartans will need more of moving forward in the season after lacking such consistency in their first three showings.
MSU sophomore center Carson Cooper made the first starter of his career and proved he belonged in such a spot, grabbing 11 rebounds and recording two blocks in 22 total minutes.
The Spartan defense came to play, holding Butler lead guards Posh Alexander and DJ Davis to a combined 3-for-18 from the field and forcing the Bulldog offense to go through their role players. Butler shot just 28 percent from the field on the night.
Senior forward Jahmyl Telfort – a former teammate of Walker at Northeastern – recorded a team-high 15 points for Butler.
The Spartans entered Friday night 1-2 with losses to James Madison and Duke, looking to right the ship after an unforeseen start to the season.
The teams fought back and forth for much of the opening 20 minutes, with MSU jumping ahead with about three minutes to go in the first half. The Spartans mounted a 37-25 lead entering the locker room.
After the Spartans’ loss to Duke Tuesday, MSU head coach Tom Izzo emphasized the need for Walker to come out as aggressive as he was in the second half against the Blue Devils. He did just that against Butler, tallying 16 points at the halftime break.
Unlike in its first three games, MSU’s offense was in rhythm from the jump. Junior guard Jaden Akins nailed two threes while Walker drilled one of his own and converted on an and-one opportunity.
But the Bulldogs persisted, quickly erasing a seven-point MSU lead thanks to a handful of Spartan turnovers. The score was knotted at 14 at the under-12 timeout in the first half.
Through 12 minutes of play with the Spartans leading 18-15, this game had all the makings of one that would come down to the wire.
Minutes later, a pivotal moment occurred when Butler forward and former Spartan Pierre Brooks II was called for a technical foul for taunting after a dunk over MSU forward Coen Carr. Walker made both free throws to put MSU up eight and the Spartans began to take control.
MSU’s defense tightened up late in the frame, not allowing a Butler field goal in the final three minutes of the first half and taking a 12-point advantages.
Hall threw down a dunk in transition to open the second half, bringing the Breslin Center to his feet. Then, the Spartan offense hit a lull, turning the ball over three times in the subsequent minutes and allowing the Bulldogs to climb back within single digits.
But the Spartan defense rose to the occasion, locking down the perimeter and making it difficult for the Bulldogs to find any kind of rhythm. With just eight minutes to play, Michigan State held a 54-41 lead after back-to-back threes from Hoggard and sophomore guard Tre Holloman.
MSU’s defense didn’t relent, and the Spartans ran away with it in the end. Freshmen Jeremy Fears Jr. and Xavier Booker made consecutive threes to give MSU its largest lead of the night at 22.
The Spartans’ 20-point win wasn’t just a feel-good triumph for the players and coaches; it showed that MSU is more than capable of becoming what they were made out to be in the offseason.
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Michigan State basketball has a quick turnaround, hosting Alcorn St. on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 6 pm
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