Couch: 3 quick takes on Michigan State's 61-55 loss to Rutgers at Madison Square Garden
1. That’s a loss MSU should regret — and it might hurt down the road.
NEW YORK – This is a loss I think is going to mean something for Michigan State come Selection Sunday. Perhaps a full seed line in the NCAA tournament. Possibly the difference between finishing 12-8 in the Big Ten, just ahead of most of the pack, and winding up 11-9 and part of it.
Want to climb up to a 6 seed in the Big Dance, perhaps even 5? Beat Rutgers on the road. Sweep the Scarlet Knights, who entered the weekend ranked No. 19 in the NET rankings, which are used as much as any metric in determining NCAA tournament seeding.
The Spartans, I think, will regret losing this game — for the opportunity lost and the legitimate chance they had to win that game, a 61-55 defeat that drops them to 6-6 in the Big Ten.
MSU had some measure of control early in the second half, up as much as eight points, 31-23, and held a lead as late as the 7:22 mark. But after scoring to go ahead 40-37 with 9:21 left, MSU didn’t score another field goal for more than five minutes. They had several careless possessions, missed shots and didn’t play like a team that valued the situation. They played those five minutes like a young team.
If this game was meant to showcase Big Ten hoops, you’ve got to look deep to find the beauty in it. There was a lot of great defense, but also a fair bit of bad offensive basketball. MSU played its part in that. The Spartans made just 4 of 21 3-point tries, had fewer assists (nine) than turnovers (14) and had too many of those, including five from point guard A.J. Hoggard, who had a rough game.
MSU is better than it played for large stretches of the second half on Saturday. But, eventually, you are what happens on the court. The Spartans have to begin to show more mettle and poise later in games.
"If we want to get where we want to go, those are wins that we have to have," MSU's Joey Hauser said.
2. That first half is the Jaden Akins — above the rim on the glass — that MSU needs every time out
Jaden Akins isn’t quite as big as Aaron Henry or, before him, Branden Dawson. But he has some of the same effect on the Spartans as his predecessors did. Akins changes who MSU is athletically when he’s on the court. His athleticism made a dent in Saturday’s game, especially on the glass, mostly early on. That first half is the best we’ve seen Akins rebound since he returned from injury in December. He seemed to be in on every missed shot, often the highest jumper. It set a tone. Akins finished with six rebounds Saturday, four of them before halftime. It felt like double that.
Akins also affected a couple Rutgers shot attempts (I thought he had a block, too, but wasn’t credited for one) and, on the other end, finished a fast-break layup just before the halftime buzzer to give MSU its largest separation of the game at that point. And later, with the Spartans trying to catch up in the final couple of minutes, hit a jumper when MSU had to have a bucket.
This MSU team is just an OK rebounding team. Akins can tip the balance to make them a formidable team on the glass when he plays like that. The Spartans need that from him all the time. He played in the first half like he made a decision to go get every ball. It paid off for MSU, which was out-rebounded in the first meeting, 42-34, including 18-6 on the offensive glass. Saturday, MSU out-rebounded Rutgers 44-34 and the Scarlet Knights only had eight offensive boards. Akins played a big part in making sure Rutgers didn’t get second chances. As did Malik Hall (13 rebounds), who didn’t play in the first meeting.
Akins rebounding from the guard position is one area MSU can, and should, have an advantage. I thought the Spartans missed his presence — defensively and on the glass — on some critical possessions down the stretch when they went with a lineup that didn’t include him.
3. Madison Square Garden isn’t the RAC, but that was definitely a road game for MSU
Maybe Rutgers is New York’s Big Ten team after all. I know this, Northwestern — “Chicago’s Big Ten team” or something — could never come close to putting as many fans in the United Center as Rutgers did Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The place was close to packed and mostly in red.
Playing off campus at MSG instead of in Piscataway at the building known as the RAC — now technically Jersey Mike’s Arena — was certainly to MSU’s advantage. There were a couple thousand Spartan faithful in the building and you could see and hear them. But when Rutgers got rolling for a bit in the second half, the Garden was theirs. It felt as loud as any Big Ten home arena. I know Rutgers wasn’t thrilled that this “Super Saturday” showcase was deemed a home game in terms of its NET ranking and NCAA tournament considerations, but I don’t know what else you’d call it. It was definitely more of a home game for Rutgers than Portland’s game against MSU that was played on Portland’s home court at the PK85 in November. And that, too, was deemed a home game even though it was part of an event.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State basketball falls to Rutgers in New York: 3 quick takes