1. Hoggard and Brooks picked it up just in time
PORTLAND, Ore. Michigan State took the upper hand in Sunday’s game against Portland when AJ Hoggard and Pierre Brooks decided to join the fight.
There was a noticeable increase in grit from those two players. And the buckets followed. So did the win — even if barely (78-77) — in the Spartans’ finale of the PK85 Invitational, played on Portland’s campus. There’s a lesson there. MSU barely survived this game. The Spartans needed every bucket and rebound, it turned out. They trailed by 10 at one point and led by 12 at another. They’d have lost if Hoggard and Brooks didn’t pick it up when they did.
Hoggard, who had struggled in the first two games of the tournament, finally took control in the second half Sunday, with eight points, six assists and just one turnover after the break. He started breaking down the Pilots’ defense, creating on the drive for himself and teammates. He’s the key to so much for MSU this season.
Brooks, who hit 2 of 3 3-pointers in the first half, began impacting the game in other ways, including smashing the offensive glass. His decision to pass up a 3-point attempt to drive and feed Carson Cooper for an alley-oop dunk was a mature and winning basketball decision. Two points the Spartans had to have. Same for his three second-half 3-pointers and all 15 of his points.
The Spartans were a bit shaky at the end. But Portland hit some incredible shots. Like the win over Oregon two nights early, the Spartans won’t apologize for this one. They escaped the city of Portland 2-1, still playing shorthanded, down Jaden Akins and Malik Hall, and are 5-2 heading into their final game of November, Wednesday night at Notre Dame. They’ll take it.
2. Portland was a good opponent for MSU to face
Portland, out of the West Coast Conference, is the sort of team that could be a nasty first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament—a team seemingly with shooters at every position, some with incredible range that, at Sunday times, were knocking in their 3s at a demoralizing clip.
This is the sort of game MSU should be able to draw from. It should be a reminder not to panic. A lesson for the Spartans that their talent is only ever enough if their grit comes with it. MSU has faced all sorts of teams in the early portion of the season. This was another. A pain-in-the-butt, red-hot shooting Pilots team playing on familiar rims, coming off a win over Villanova and having put a scare into North Carolina. MSU had to figure out how they met and survived — and did just enough.
3. Freshman thoughts – the Portland PK85 edition
For a little while, I thought this might be a big night for MSU’s three freshman. Carson Cooper’s dunk – on a feed from Joey Hauser – put the Spartans up 21-14. Jaxon Kohler had one post move with about seven different fakes, albeit before an airball on the hook shot. Tre Hollman’s recent play on defense made him a logical choice to counter the Pilots’ outside shooting.
It didn’t turn out to be a freshman kind of day, though Cooper might have had his best game, with another dunk later on the feed from Brooks. Kohler had the longest run of the three, but struggled at times on both ends and on the glass — though he battled. His second half offensive rebound wrestled to a jump ball on the ground against a sea of Portland arms was a good example of this. Kohler missed all four of his shots, though they were good looks for him. Exactly what MSU wants.
Holloman played early and then not again until late. But his jumper with 6 minutes left gave MSU a 70-62. As Jaden Akins returns, Holloman will have to get used to this sort of inconsistent but often important role.
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.