Improved guard play key for Michigan State vs. W. Michigan


Michigan State’s new starting backcourt got off to a shaky start, and coach Tom Izzo will look for significant improvement when the Spartans host Western Michigan on Friday in East Lansing, Mich.

Michigan State lost its opener to No. 3 Kansas 87-74 Tuesday at the Champions Classic in New York City.

The team’s new point guard, Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker, was held to two points and three assists in 20 minutes. Walker, who averaged 18.8 points and 4.8 assists last season for the Huskies, committed three turnovers and four fouls.

Izzo said he felt Walker played too passively.

“He came off a couple of those ball screens wide open and just didn’t shoot it, and I don’t know why,” Izzo said.

Freshman shooting guard Max Christie, the Spartans’ top recruit, shot 3-for-10 from the field while scoring nine points. He made two turnovers in 31 minutes.

“He missed some good shots, and I think it affected his defense,” Izzo said. “I think he got tired, too. Playing 31 minutes, I didn’t expect to play him 31 minutes, and guys went around him. He learned some things.”

One of the team’s returning guards, A.J. Hoggard, was its best backcourt option on Tuesday. Hoggard scored a team-high 17 points and dished out four assists in 26 minutes off the bench.

“I was really happy with A.J.,” Izzo said. “He pushed the ball on the break. He defended pretty well. I think he took a big step forward.”

There are several areas the team needs to clean up. It made 16 turnovers and shot 9-for-16 from the free throw line.

“There are probably more good things than bad, but when you shoot that poorly from the free throw line and turn the ball over, there’s no excuse for that,” Izzo said.

Western Michigan, which finished 5-16 last season, collected a 76-58 season-opening victory over Hope College on Wednesday. Duquesne transfer Lamar Norman Jr. led the way with 23 points.

“We’ve got a different team,” coach Clayton Bates said in a recent podcast. “We’ve got to really find out what our strengths and weaknesses are. I think we have an idea. … We’re all going in the same direction, we’re all working toward the same goal. I really want to see us stay committed to that.”

–Field Level Media

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