Michigan State earns 'gritty' victory vs. Indiana to halt short-lived slide

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo questioned his team’s toughness during a home loss to Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Four days later, the Spartans coach got exactly what he was hoping for as No. 17 Michigan State had the emotional edge from the opening tip, pouring it on in the second half on the way to a 76-61 victory at the Breslin Center, ending a two-game skid and keeping the Spartans one game back of first-place Illinois the Big Ten race.

Michigan State's Malik Hall, left, looks to pass against Indiana's Xavier Johnson during the first half Saturday in East Lansing.

It was far from perfect as Michigan State started slowly, but an impressive game at the free-throw line and 18 points from Malik Hall sparked the victory.

BOXSCORE: Michigan State 76, Indiana 61

The Spartans were 25-for-28 from the line. But, it was the fight the Spartans (18-6, 9-4 Big Ten) showed that made the difference.

“It wasn’t pretty, but it was gritty,” Izzo said. “We needed to get a gritty win. We really needed that.”

It was the type of win that has been the norm around the Michigan State program for the better part of Izzo’s 27 years at the helm. However, it’s been lacking in more than just the loss to Wisconsin early in the week.

Too many times over the past month or so — even in several victories that were closer than they should have been — that grit and emotion was hard to come by. So, over the last few days, the meetings were plenty, from the player-only type to the entire team.

The message was clear by the time the Spartans hit the court on Saturday.

“It’s really just the culture here, honestly,” Hall said. “The culture here has always been to play hard.

“That’s what we said in the meetings. We’re not going to be the group that shies away from the culture that (Izzo) has built for so long. So that's what it came down to, and there were kind of some people calling people out and stuff like that, just to make sure everybody got the (message) and stayed true to it.”

There was no wavering from that message on Saturday as Michigan State didn’t play a perfect game, still turning it over 15 times and allowing 12 offensive rebounds and twice letting 10-point leads slip away. However, the Spartans got after it for 40 minutes in a chippy game that saw guard A.J. Hoggard get ejected after getting called for two technical fouls.

“We just played hard,” Izzo said, shaking his head. “We didn't shoot the lights out — we did from the free-throw line. We didn't shoot it from the three. We didn't play error-free basketball, but we played hard as hell and made some things happen.”

Even with the ejection, Hoggard had a big game along with fellow point guard Tyson Walker. Hoggard got the start for the first time this season and responded with 14 points and eight assists. The move also sparked Walker, who matched a season-high with 15 points while taking 10 shots and hitting three 3-pointers.

“We just all had a chip on our shoulders coming into tonight after dropping the last two games,” Hoggard said. “We just came out with a mindset to be aggressive.”

It paid off, as Hoggard led the way and Walker picked it up from there.

“I was having a hell of a time,” Walker said with a smile.

The Spartans also defended well as Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 17 for Indiana (16-8, 7-7), but was 5-for-13 shooting. Tamar Bates and Race Thompson each scored 13 for the Hoosiers.

“We’re not shooting the ball very well right now,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “And we didn’t make free throws. Just make your free throws and you’re in the ball game. They made free throws and we didn’t. That was a big part of it.”

It didn’t take Michigan State long to shake off another slow start, falling behind 9-5 while making one of its first six shots. The Spartans responded quickly to grab the lead aback and push it to 14-11 after a drive and layup from Walker less than six minutes into the game.

After a Jackson-Davis dunk made it a one-point game, Michigan State rattled off an 11-2 run, getting six point from Hoggard in the stretch to take a 25-15 lead with 6:42 to play, the Spartans’ biggest lead of the half. Indiana responded, though, as turnovers started to hurt Michigan State. A 9-0 run from the Hoosiers cut the Spartans’ lead to one before the Hoosiers late tied the game at 29 with 1:52 to play on a jumper in the corner from Bates.

The Spartans closed the half strong, however, using an 8-1 surge to take a 37-30 lead into the halftime locker room, a stretch that was highlighted by a Hall 3-pointer.

Michigan State started slowly again in the second half as Indiana scored the first eight points to take a 38-37 lead just more than two minutes into the half.

“We started the second half and came out ready to play,” Woodson said. “We go on that run to take the lead an then we couldn’t sustain it.”

The Spartans rebounded, though, as Hall hit a 3-pointer and after a lob pass from Gabe Brown to Hall, the lead grew to 45-41. After a Walker triple and layup, Michigan State pushed the advantage to 54-44 with 12 minutes to play.

But a three-point play from Jackson-Davis kept followed by four straight free throws kept the Hoosiers in the game. Michigan State responded with an 8-0 run, however, extending the lead to 62-51 with 5:55 to play when Hall hit a prayer of a jump shot from behind the backboard as the shot clock expired.

From there, the Spartans pulled away, ending their skid at two games.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Izzo said. “But I think we taught ourselves a lesson tonight on what it’s going to take the win in this league.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau