EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)Tyson Walker may not be the leading scorer every game, but he’s a key ingredient that has No. 19 Michigan State off to its best start in four seasons.
”Tyson, the guy that stirs the drink usually gets the team going,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the Spartans’ 80-64 win Saturday over Penn State. ”He’s doing that now, and it’s been fun to watch.”
Walker, who transferred from Northeastern to Michigan State during the offseason, finished with 10 points and nine assists. He was instrumental in helping the Spartans mount a 31-3 advantage in fastbreak point, pushing the ball to Gabe Brown, who led the team with 15 points, and Marcus Bingham Jr., who had 12.
”I started to get the rhythm of it the last two weeks of just get going,” Walker said about running the fastbreak. ”It’s fun now.”
The Spartans (9-2) have won four straight games, and are off to their best start since the 2017-18 season, when they started 14-2.
”This is one of the best times I’ve had,” Walker said. ”We’re winning. I’ve never been ranked before. They don’t know how big of a deal it is. For me, it’s a big deal.”
Walker’s play has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
”He’s starting to show why he was in the race for defensive player of the year,” Bingham said. ”The past couple of games he’s been doing a good job of getting steals and being active in the gaps. He had nine assists. I tried to tell him to get another one. He could have gave it to me when I was running the break.”
Even first-year Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry thought Walker was one of the deciding factors.
”You can see him getting comfortable in what he’s doing,” Shrewsberry said. ”He pushes the ball with so much pace. He’s shooting the ball phenomenally. ”He puts so much pressure on the defense to get back and stop him.”
Seth Lundy scored 18 points and John Harrar added 16 for the Nittany Lions (5-5).
Michigan State took advantage of cold shooting by Penn State at the start of the second half to build a 51-32 lead. The Nittany Lions missed four of their first five shots during the Spartans’ 9-2 run, which was capped by a 3-pointer by freshman Max Christie.
Penn State was able to close the gap to 58-46 with 13:27 left on a layup from Sam Sessoms. The Spartans answered with consecutive 3-pointers by A.J. Hoggard and Bingham to push their lead to 64-46. The closest the Nittany Lions could get the rest of the game was within 12 points on Lundy’s 3-pointer with 5:39 left.
Neither team was able to pull away in the first 16 minutes, when there were five lead changes and no advantage larger than five points. After Penn State pulled to 27-25, Michigan State closed out the first half by scoring 15 of the final 19 points.
”They can score in the paint. They score in the perimeter,” Shrewsberry said. ”You have to make it hard on them early. They were flying down the court and that’s what you expect.”
Penn State: The Nittany Lions, who had been playing solid defense at the start of the season, came into the game holding four of their first nine opponents under 60 points. The 80 points are the second-most scored against Penn State this year.
Michigan State: Shrewsberry is the 250th coach that Izzo has faced in his 27 years at Michigan State. Izzo, who has a 652-256 record against all coaches, is just 13 wins away from passing John Wooden.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are idle for the next week before visiting VCU on Dec. 18 and hosting Quinnipiac on Dec. 22.
Michigan State: The Spartans are off for 10 days before returning to action Dec. 21 in Detroit against Oakland. Michigan State has never lost to the Grizzlies in 19 previous meetings.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25