Milestones, career achievements highlight Michigan State victory over Michigan

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MSU Athletics

EAST LANSING – Few coaches in Division I men’s basketball eclipse the milestone of 700 career wins; 37 coaches to be exact. Fewer coaches get to accomplish the feat against their rivals. And even fewer get to celebrate their birthday by doing so.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was able to do all three of those in one night to become the 38th Division I coach to summit the mountain of 700 wins.

The exclusive club gained another member in the late hours of Jan. 30, as Izzo further cemented his legacy into the roots of college basketball.

“I look back on my career…what I was gonna do in my career, when I was gonna quit, if I was gonna go to the NBA. So many coaches have changed, and I just kind of hung in there,” Izzo said. “And that’s what happens when you hang in there. 700 wins is pretty impressive, even to me. And 700 wins at the same school? That means a lot to me.”

So on the day he turned 69, Izzo soaked in the victory over the Michigan Wolverines as he strutted across the hardwood – family, friends, and players all tailing behind him.

Standing on the Spartan logo at center court, Izzo gazed upon the crowd, microphone in hand, ready to thank his players who have helped him reach this milestone.

“[Mateen Cleaves] is the reason I kept my job. 24 or [25] years later we’re still here. [Fans] were unbelievable tonight, and I give a lot of credit to all of these guys,” Izzo said as he pointed to his players.

The respect for Izzo goes beyond the Michigan State community, as Michigan head coach and former Fab Five member Juwan Howard expressed his admiration for Izzo’s accomplishments.

“That’s an easy question. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. He’s an example of what a lot of us coaches are striving to become,” Howard said.

Win No. 700 didn’t come so easy for the Spartans, at least not in the first half.

Michigan (7-14, 2-8 Big Ten) came out firing on all cylinders, seemingly making every shot they took, and Michigan State had no answers.

While Michigan was capitalizing on its opportunities and nailing shots, Michigan State struggled to make shots and corral loose balls and rebounds, a point of emphasis that Izzo was hammering down on in recent days.

Seven minutes into the game, Michigan State (13-8, 5-5 Big Ten) had four turnovers in five minutes, an almost three-minute scoring drought, and Michigan shooting four for five in that stretch.

The leader of the battle in this game was junior guard Jaden Akins, who caught fire in the first half for MSU with 11 points and connected on three of his four three-point attempts in the first half.

For the Maize and Blue, it was graduate guard Jaelin Llewellyn showing off, with 12 points at the half on 80 percent shooting and 100 percent from the arc.

At halftime, the Wolverines headed to the locker room donning a two-point lead and looking to replicate their shot-making in the second half.

A halftime speech from senior guard Davis Smith in the Michigan State locker room seemed to be the spark the Spartans needed to come out in the second half with poise and determination.

When the two teams resumed play to start the second half, that two-point lead suddenly faded into a 10-point deficit.

Graduate forward Malik Hall netted a layup, followed by graduate guard Tyson Walker picking the pocket of Llewellyn and getting a breakaway layup to put the Breslin crowd on its feet.

Michigan State took back the lead for the first time since 17:56 to go in the first half, and they would not surrender the lead again.

Senior guard AJ Hoggard found his rhythm in the second half, dropping 10 points on five for nine shooting and earning himself a milestone of his own, the newest member of the 1,000-point club.

“I am really proud of AJ,” Izzo said. “It’s been an interesting four years, to say the least. I’m happy for him because it meant a lot to him.”

“You have things you want to accomplish when you pick up the basketball when you’re a kid, so just being able to do that, especially at a place like this, and be on that list with some of the greats that came through here is definitely a special honor,” Hoggard said.

MSU cleaned up their sloppy play, only turned the ball over twice in the second half, and shot 60 percent from the field in the second half, compared to Michigan’s 25 percent.

The second-half turnaround brought the decibel level in the arena to possibly the highest it had been all season, and MSU would cruise to an 81-62 victory over Michigan.

Jaden Akins capped off his career night with 12 points in the second half, finishing with 23 on the night and setting a new career high.

Outside of all the milestones and achievements that were celebrated on a foggy, brisk night in East Lansing, the team still knows that their success is indicative of the kind of energy the crowd brings game in and game out.

“We’ve got one of the best fan bases in the country, so it’s definitely an honor and a privilege just to play in front of them,” Hoggard said. “Gotta give them credit for helping us get it going. They help us make shots, they give us energy. Even in the tough times of the game, they’re still there.”

A night filled with emotion came and went, and Michigan State knows there is still work to accomplish if they want to get to the promised land.

“I should be more excited, but I’m not, because I’ve got bigger goals than to win a game,” Izzo said.

Michigan State looks to keep the momentum as they prepare to host Maryland, whom they have already beaten this season, on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 5:30 pm.

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