1. MSU survives against the Gophers, but that won’t get it done
EAST LANSING – If you had A.J. Hoggard dishing to Joey Hauser for the winning layup at the buzzer on your Bingo card Wednesday night, well, Bingo.
Michigan State can look like a team that you can picture competing for a Big Ten championship and playing in the Sweet 16. And then you watch the Spartans for stretches and wonder if they’re any better than Minnesota.
There was way too much of the latter in Wednesday night’s 71-69 escape against a game Gophers team.
This was the first game since the Champions Classic where I thought MSU’s opponent more often played with more purpose and focus. Minnesota certainly learned from its last loss to the Spartans in December. It created good looks and made them.
You could tell this game was going to come down to a dicey finish when the Spartans let a 30-21 lead late in the first half become just 34-31 at the break after a sloppy and uninspiring final few minutes before the break.
Then it also got weird. Tyson Walker asked out of the game at the 10:43 mark and didn’t return, appearing hobbled and frustrated after a turnover, but also after a good spell of play. Marcus Bingham Jr. didn’t play the final 10:14. An MSU team without Walker and Bingham full-go probably isn’t any better than Minnesota.
In that regard, the Spartans are right to feel good about surviving. They gutted it out. Made just enough plays, just enough rebounds, one more than a Minnesota team that isn’t known for rebounding.
MSU looked a little tired. And like it didn’t’ have answers. It certainly didn’t defensively. The Gophers played like an NCAA tournament team. Credit to them. But the MSU team we watched Wednesday is in trouble at Wisconsin and Illinois.
But for now, 5-0 is 5-0. No one is better in the Big Ten. For now.
2. Freshman thoughts – the Minnesota edition, Part II
It’s becoming clear that Max Christie has found a groove with his shot. That continued Wednesday night, when he hit 7 of 12 shots, including 2 of 3 3s for 16 points (along with five rebounds and four assists). There’s never been any hesitation to shoot. Now the shots are dropping. His first triple Wednesday is an example of the sort of devastating shooter he can be — a pull-up 3 from the right side, a defender thinking he had his hand in a place to deter the shot.
Later, Christie’s baseline pull-up jumper early in the second half was a critical bucket at a shaky time for the Spartans. Same for his pull-up bucket in the lane to give MSU a 61-55 lead when things were still tight and getting late. And again with his jumper curling off a screen to put MSU ahead 69-64 as the 2-minute mark approached.
I wrote back when Christie had his first big game of the season at Butler that I didn’t know what it would look like to see Christie shoot too much, but that we’re a long ways from it. We still are. Part of his effectiveness is that he doesn’t hunt shots and force offense. Still, the more he shoots, the better for MSU. Even with a nervous first half at Northwestern in his homecoming game, he’s now 23 of 37 from the floor in his last four games, including 11-for-17 from long…