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1. MSU proves it has the goods — and guards — to make a deep NCAA tournament run
COLUMBUS, Ohio – If you were wondering whether Michigan State had the guards to win a game like that, to beat Marquette, to get MSU’s program back to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend, Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard answered emphatically Sunday, in the closing minutes especially.
If you wondered whether this team had a center who could hold up down the stretch, Mady Sissoko showed the sort of stick-to-itiveness that’ll be remembered for a long time.
If you were wondering whether a program built on defense and rebounding could get it done, it can and did.
If you were wondering how much getting to the Sweet 16 mattered to an old coach who’s been there, done that, but hadn’t in a while, Tom Izzo’s tears and expression as he waited to do his postgame radio interview courtside said everything.
This MSU basketball team just became beloved by its fan base. You could hear in the final moments of its 69-60 win over No. 2-seed Marquette on Friday, as the Spartan fans in Columbus chanted “Joey, Joey,” as Joey Hauser put his shoe back on, a few seconds before the work was done against his former team.
This felt bigger than a second-round game. It was, I think for MSU’s program and for a team that has a chance to make a run, but had to beat another team with a chance to make a run to do it.
Walker’s left-handed driving bank shot with 3 minutes left was the sort of play it takes to win a game like this. Hoggard’s downhill driving layup over a defender the next time down the floor was, too. Same for Walker’s pull-up jumper in a defender’s face for a 62-55 lead, the two blocked shots by Sissoko in the final minutes and the massive offensive rebound by Malik Hall, which left Izzo pumping his fist heading into a late timeout.
I’ve thought for a while that this MSU team had a little something more to it than recent teams. This team proved it Sunday. They’ll play next week in New York. Kansas State awaits. The Sweet 16 awaits.
2. The Spartans wouldn’t have won that game, shooting like that from 3, two weeks ago
When Jaden Akins missed a wide-open, in-rhythm 3-pointer midway through the second half and then missed another, well short, a couple minutes later, leaving the Spartans 1-for-15 from beyond the arc, you had to wonder whether one was ever going to go in. And, whether a team that, at times, lived and died by its outside shot this season could weather such a game.
They could and did. They only made one more 3 on one more try — from Hauser in the corner. They won this game with grit, defense, rebounding, rim protection and some clutch shot-making at the hoop. They won a game they wouldn’t have won two weeks ago.
Some of the Spartans’ outside shooting woes had a lot to do with Marquette’s defense. The Golden Eagles ran them off the line, got into them and forced several late-clock heaves.
The Spartans had the maturity to win the game another way. And to take what was given to them. And they had the guards to do it.
3. Freshman thoughts — the Marquette NCAA tournament edition
If, in November, you had Carson Cooper playing 16 critical minutes in a second-round NCAA tournament game on your bingo card … well, bingo.
Cooper’s rise in importance to MSU’s team this year didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. We first saw his rim-running, athletic ability and length impact a game at Illinois in mid-January and then here and there throughout Big Ten play, before being an essential component for MSU against USC on Friday.
He was again Sunday. He gave the Spartans their depth at center and another defensive answer in a game that was always going to be decided in no small part by ball-screen defense. This wasn’t a game for Jaxon Kohler, who played just a minute in the first half. Mady Sissoko played well, but when he checked out for a second time and then again with his second foul, Cooper filled in admirably.
Early on, he forced Marquette center Oso Ighodaro to drive into the baseline and throw a pass underneath the basket that was picked off by Malik Hall. A few possessions later, Cooper’s hedge defensively helped Tyson Walker turn over Tyler Kopek. And, not long after, he finished a press-break with an alley-oop dunk from Hall, which never looked in doubt. He’s a smooth athlete, with size and good hands. It made the play look easy.
In the second half, Cooper did a good job moving his feet and creating a wall to stop Marquette on the drive. He blocked a shot coming over to help defensively when it was 42-all midway through the half. When Sissoko picked up his fourth foul with almost 7 minutes left, he checked in briefly, but quickly picked up his own fourth foul. Who’d a thunk Carson Cooper’s fourth foul could be an important moment in a game of this magnitude.
He still loses on the glass more than he will as he gets stronger. But his growth and confidence is a big reason the Spartans are moving on. What a late find.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU basketball beats Marquette in the NCAA tournament: 3 quick takes