East Lansing, MI – Tuesday night, Michigan State came home to face a talented Rutgers team and was tasked with stopping one of the best players in the conference, Ron Harper Jr., who averages 22.1 points per game.
It started well.
The Spartans first possession featured freshman A.J. Hoggard splitting a double team and dishing it to Thomas Kithier for the easy layup.
MSU forced Steve Pikiell, the Scarlet Knights head coach, to call a timeout with Michigan State leading 11-4 less than five minutes into the contest.
However, the Spartans would have multiple scoring droughts, one nearly lasting five minutes and made numerous unforced errors – ending the first half with 14 turnovers (MSU averages 13.2 per game).
Michigan State was fortunate to be in the lead, but Rutgers finished 6-for-17 from the charity stripe and went 3-12 from three-point range, an area they usually shoot nearly 40% (Harper was 1-4 overall).
Yet, it wasn't just Scarlet Knight's missing; MSU's defense rose to new heights as they blocked shots, limited RU to four second-chance points, and had active hands in passing lanes.
Oh, and Aaron Henry showed up, again.
He managed to replicate his performance against Nebraska (huge for Michigan State) while playing confident, in control, and aggressive.
The junior captain entered the locker room, hitting 4-of-8 shots for 11 points, four rebounds, three blocks, and one steal.
20-minutes left in regulation; can MSU keep it up?
To start the second half, Michigan State would do just that – stretching its lead to 36-25 and going on an 8-2 run with 15:29 left.
Henry continued to save the Spartans, drilling a three to give him 18 of the Spartans 41 points and put MSU up 11 over Rutgers, which called a timeout in hopes of slowing him down and potentially reinvigorate an otherwise bad night on the offensive end.
Luckily for MSU, that wouldn't happen.
After posting all-around solid numbers from inside and out, RU was due for a poor shooting night, and Michigan State took advantage.
Harper Jr., Montez Mathis, and Jacob Young combined 27 points on 34 attempts, six rebounds, two assists, and four steals.
Before another media timeout temporarily stopped the action, MSU came alive as Joshua Langford scored huge back-to-back buckets, helping the Spartans grab its largest lead of the night with less than four minutes to go.
The savvy veteran stepped up, becoming the closer Michigan State had been searching for.
One thing is certain; MSU clinched their most impressive victory of the young campaign.
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