MSU's Christie, Hauser look to get untracked against Toledo

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing —  A quick look at the stats, and some might wonder what Tom Izzo is talking about.

Between freshman Max Christie and senior Joey Hauser, the shots haven’t been falling at an impressive rate. Outside of a few brief stretches, neither has been shooting the ball well, regardless of how far away they are from the basket.

Izzo isn’t wavering.

Michigan State guard Max Christie shoots over the top of Louisville guard Noah Locke.

“I know this will sound crazy,” Izzo said this week after a victory over Louisville, “but I still think (Christie) and Hauser are my two best shooters and someday it's going to come.”

Through eight games, the 22nd-ranked Spartans (6-2) are still waiting.

Christie has shown more flashes, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the win at Butler, both of which held off potential rallies from the Bulldogs. The freshman finished with a season-high 18 points.

More: Turnovers continue to mar otherwise strong start for Michigan State

Consistency is lacking. Christie is shooting 28.6% (8-for-28) from 3-point range. Since that game at Butler, he’s 3-for-14 from long range. He’s 23-for-66 (34.8%) overall. As a five-star freshman, opponents are focusing on slowing him down.

“He doesn't get the looks Joey gets because people are putting full attention on him,” Izzo said. “But he will (figure it out) and we will figure out how to do a better job. But I'm really proud of Max. He’s not frustrated.

“But going into UConn, they put the best defensive player I've seen on him. Baylor did the same thing. He's getting a lot of attention and that's probably opening it up for some other people, too.”

While Gabe Brown and Malik Hall are taking advantage, Christie hasn’t been getting a ton of opportunity. He took only six shots in each of the last two games. Still, Christie managed to score 11 points against Louisville after netting nine points over the previous three games combined.

Through it all, the 6-foot-6 wing is proving to be a better defender than anyone anticipated.

“I swear, the underlying part of the whole thing that probably didn't get looked upon as much is that Max’s defense was phenomenal,” Izzo said. “It’s as good as anybody that we've had in a while. Like Gary Harris. So that is a big plus.

“I do see an incredible maturity. It’s amazing what he has done as far as 90 percent of scorers let their scoring affect their defense, He hasn't done that one time all year. For a freshman, that is almost unbelievable. If you watch him, he is in lockdown mode.”

Things haven’t been going as well for Hauser. I’s been made tougher because he came to Michigan State with high expectations as a transfer from Marquette. He was a 42.5% 3-point shooter for one season at Marquette and had some big moments early last year for Michigan State before struggling down the stretch. He finished at 34% from long range.

It’s been a tougher road for Hauser through eight games. He’s shooting 25% from 3-point range (5-for-20), including 30.8% overall. He has turned the ball over 13 times.

Michigan State's Joey Hauser.

Hauser was 0-for-6 in the win at Butler with three turnovers, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers. He missed the Eastern Michigan game with a calf issue before returning for three games in the Bahamas. None went particularly well, though Hauser did hit a pair of triples in the win over UConn. He then played a season-low 15 minutes in the win over Louisville, an early layup his only bucket.

“When a guy doesn't play well or doesn't shoot well, especially when you're a shooter … I think everybody wants to try to do a little more, everybody wants to be somebody different,” Izzo said. “It is frustrating for Joey. If you watched him shoot in practice, the guy shoots the lights out. I'm sure he's frustrated by that and tries to force some things and make some plays because he's not into it. He's going to have to fight through that. We are going to have to help him get through that.”

That work continues when Michigan State plays host to Toledo (6-1) at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The Rockets have won four in a row, but their strength of schedule is 212th in the nation. They lost by 21 to Oakland.

It could be the perfect time for Hauser, who Izzo suggested has been affected by fan criticism, to regain confidence.

“I love Joey Hauser, I really do,” Izzo said. “I think that the day is going to come, and we are just going to keep working at it until it comes. I know what his skill level is, I know how frustrated he is. Max isn't frustrated, I think Joey is a little frustrated and I am glad he is frustrated. It's the guys that aren't frustrated that don't care. We just have to work through it, and we will.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

Toledo at No. 22 Michigan State

►Tip-off: 5 p.m. Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

►TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760

►Records: Toledo 6-1; Michigan State 6-2

►Outlook: This is the ninth meeting between the teams and the first since 2009. … MSU enters with the second-best defense in the nation, according to … Sophomore Ryan Rollins, an All-State player at Macomb Dakota, leads the Rockets averaging, 20 points per game.