Chris SolariDetroit Free Press
EAST LANSING — More of Tom Izzo’s former players showed up. As did many memories of Michigan State basketball’s past.
Clutch play from Malik Hall and Tyson Walker in a close game. Tenacity on the boards for rebounds and on the floor for loose balls. The sixth man, the Izzone, providing volume and urgency the Spartans needed in a defensive struggle with Maryland.
“I asked Jason Richardson and Mat Ishbia — I said, ‘Remind you of things?’” Izzo said. “Jason said, ‘Yeah, the game did.’ Because back then, it was a football game on hardwood.”
And MSU twice grinded out wins against the tenacious Terrapins not even two weeks apart to earn a season sweep. But unlike the earlier meeting that remains the Spartans’ lone road victory of the season, prevailing 63-54 on Saturday at Breslin Center finally showed a single tenet Izzo has sought most from this team.
“I think sometimes, we have a tendency to see how the game is gonna go and then start playing the game, you know what I mean?” Hall said, after scoring 12 of his 19 points in MSU’s pull-away run over the final 6:12. “Like, sometimes, (an opponent) comes out and they’re automatically physical, and we’re waiting to see, ‘Oh, is this gonna be a physical game?’ And then we start playing physical.
“I think that’s what just coach is talking about. He wants us to come out physically, he wants us to come out as aggressive. And that’s what we just have to do a better job of that, like we did in the second half.”
MSU (14-8, 6-5 Big Ten) displayed the type of grit and resolve in a few key areas that long has defined Izzo’s program. Particularly how the Spartans hit the glass against a Maryland team that had a plus-15 rebounding advantage in the first meeting, a 61-59 MSU escape Jan. 21 in College Park, Maryland.
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Hall had seven of MSU’s 36 rebounds — spread among eight of the nine Spartans who played — to the Terps’ 30. It was the first time in five games and just the fifth time in Big Ten play this season Izzo’s team outrebounded the opponent.
“We’re growing together,” Izzo said. “Sometimes you gotta go through these kind of games to grow together. … A win is a win, baby. We’re just moving on.”
The Spartans squandered a nine-point first-half lead, with the Terps (13-9, 5-6) taking their only lead of the game, 42-41, with 7:15 to play on two of Jahmir Young’s game-high 31 points.
It lasted 16 seconds, with A.J. Hoggard driving and lofting a lob to Mady Sissoko for an alley-oop that gave MSU the lead for good. A switch flipped at that moment, sparking a 16-2 run over the next four minutes.
After the Sissoko dunk, Hall missed a pair of free throws but quickly took advantage of a second chance, thanks to a tap-out for one of Carson Cooper’s four offensive rebounds. MSU turned 12 offensive boards into 11 second-chance points.
Hall got fouled again on the extra possession and made both 1-and-1 free throws. After a pair of Maryland free throws, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound senior coolly drained a 3-pointer. He gobbled up a defensive rebound and avoided a steal-from-behind attempt at the other end, then got the ball back at the top of the key and drove past Donta Scott for a layup and foul.
Hoggard swiped a pass near midcourt and raced in for a layup seconds later, and the Spartans’ offense broke the shell of the Terrapins’ defense, which had confined them for 33 minutes.
Hall hit two more free throws, and Tyson Walker slipped into the paint for a layup with 3:04 to play that put MSU ahead by 13. Along with that late scoring, the Spartans had a 9-3 rebounding edge over the final 6:40 as the Terrapins missed six of their final eight shots.
“When it was closing time,” Hoggard, who had five rebounds, said, “I think everyone did it did a good job of making that the emphasis and going up there and rebounding.”
Said Walker, who had three rebounds with his 19 points: “I think we did a good job of hitting first on defense to get the rebounds.”
MSU held the Terrapins 16 points below their 70.3 per-game season scoring average. Maryland went 7-for-30 from 3-point range and shot 30.9% for the game. Only three Terps hit a field goal and only four scored in the game. And despite Young’s big game, he only made 9 of 22 shots.
“A fistfight. A big-time, old-time, Big Ten basketball game,” Izzo said. “You don’t have those as much anymore. I give a lot of credit to (the Terrapins), they’re about as physical and tough a team as I’ve played in a long time.”
Next up is another tough, physical opponent — Tuesday at Minnesota (9 p.m., Peacock). The Gophers (14-7, 5-5) were overtime winners Saturday at home against Northwestern, 75-66.
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The Spartans defeated Minnesota at home Jan. 18, 77-66, thanks to a late surge from Walker. MSU has won five of its past six games, pulling away after halftime during four of those like they did against the Terrapins.
“I think there’s a lot of respect amongst the guys now,” Izzo said. “They know we’re not where we need to be and where I think we could be. Do I think we got a lot of ceiling left? I do. Are we gonna get there? We’ll find out.
“But games like this actually help us because of the way halftime was, the way the huddles were, the way the team kind of took ownership of some things in some situations. I was really proud of them for that.”
Contact Chris Solari:[email protected]. Follow him @chrissolari.
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