East Lansing, MI – Michigan State entered a nearly empty Pinnacle Bank Arena winless in the conference for the first time since 2001-02, and with it came a rare occurrence; a must-win game in early January.
It wasn't the easiest time or place for A.J. Hoggard to start his first career game at point guard.
Yet, even with the pressure of needing to deliver a win for the Spartans Saturday night, he looked surprisingly comfortable as he dished out five assists while helping MSU kickstart its offense and break a bad losing streak.
"When your teammates feel comfortable in you, you have no choice but to feel comfortable in yourself," Hoggard told reporters Monday afternoon. "The guys were kind of giving me words of encouragement and helping me get ready to prepare for playing those minutes."
Ultimately, his coach wants him to continue to feel that comfortability while continuously challenging the 20-year old.
"In today's practice, I made sure he knows he's still a freshman that doesn't know anything," MSU's Tom Izzo said.
Hoggard's insertion into the starting lineup didn't surprise many folks after Izzo moved Rocket Watts back to shooting guard and eluded to Foster Loyer's role remaining the same.
But it was a significant increase in playing time for a guy averaging 5.6 minutes per game in Michigan State's first eight contests.
However, part of it was injury-related; the freshman had knee surgery before the season tipped off, and it took weeks for him to feel physically ready.
The more obvious obstacle involved Izzo attempting to convert Watts to point guard, an experiment currently on hold, which paved the way for Hoggard to receive 24 minutes Saturday night vs. Nebraska.
"It takes a lot, especially playing point guard here is a little different than the traditional point guard spot anywhere else," said Hoggard. "I'm kind of still learning a little bit, but I feel like I picked it up a little faster than some."
His biggest prioritizes surrounded ball movement, an issue plaguing the Spartans in recent contests, and to create easier scoring opportunities by pushing the pace.
"I think he ran our team," Izzo said on Monday. "I think he can make some plays on the break that look natural to him, and that's kind of what we're looking for."
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