No. 23 Rutgers is on an upswing, but the Scarlet Knights will face a stern road test against Tom Izzo and Michigan State on Thursday in East Lansing, Mich.
Rutgers (13-5, 5-2 Big Ten) is 7-1 in its past eight games and exacted revenge on Ohio State on Sunday with a 68-64 overtime win at home. It moved the Scarlet Knights into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten.
That same afternoon, the program received a verbal commitment from Class of 2024 five-star forward Airious “Ace” Bailey, the first five-star in its history. And the following day, the Scarlet Knights made their first appearance in the AP Top 25 poll since February 2021.
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said his team isn’t discussing the possibility of challenging for a Big Ten title yet.
“You guys (the media) can talk about that,” Pikiell said. “We’ve got Michigan State (next) and it’s the best league in the country. We don’t ever look down the road. These guys know how I am and I’ll never change. There’s a lot of season left and there is a lot of really good basketball and there’s a lot of things that go on, so we’ve got to stay focused on what’s important.”
After Ohio State beat Rutgers by a point in December, Mawot Mag made the rematch a four-point game when he knocked down a crucial 3-pointer with 38 seconds left in overtime.
In Rutgers’ prior game, Cam Spencer made his second go-ahead 3-pointer of the season to lift his team over Northwestern 65-62. Spencer has led Rutgers in scoring in each of the past three games and stuffed the stat sheet against the Buckeyes with 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Michigan State (12-6, 4-3) has lost two tight games after a seven-game winning streak.
After a 75-66 loss at Illinois that was much closer than the final score, the Spartans hosted No. 3 Purdue on Monday and went shot for shot with the Big Ten leaders. In a game with 13 lead changes and eight ties, the Boilermakers fed National Player of the Year candidate Zach Edey for the game-winning layup to beat Michigan State 64-63.
An emotional Izzo, in between criticizing the officiating and saying his team lost the game in the first minute due to turnovers, said he was proud of how his players stayed in the battle.
“There aren’t many times that I go in a losing locker room and thank my team for competing and tell them how proud I was of them for competing,” Izzo said. “That’s not to save them for the next game. That’s not my MO. It’s not my style at all. It was because in my heart, I believe we competed well enough to win the game.”
Tyson Walker scored a season-high 30 points with four 3-pointers. A.J. Hoggard added 14 points and eight assists for Michigan State.
Walker leads the team in scoring (14.8) and Joey Hauser adds 13.4 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game. Hoggard is averaging 12.6 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
Izzo said that senior Malik Hall (9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) aggravated a stress reaction injury in his left foot in the Illinois loss and could be out long-term. It’s unknown if he’ll miss the rest of the season.
“We were trying to win the game for him, because he’s crushed,” Izzo said.
Michigan State once led the all-time series 11-0 before Rutgers won the last two meetings in lopsided fashion, 67-37 on Jan. 28, 2021, and 84-63 on Feb. 5, 2022. Both those losses came at Rutgers. The programs will face off a second time this season on Feb. 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
–Field Level Media