NCAA Men's Basketball

No. 19 Michigan State looks to continue success vs. Penn State

Since moving up a notch in competition, transferring from Northeastern to Michigan State, Tyson Walker has struggled with his new role, going from top threat to facilitator.

On Saturday, however, Walker may have found where he fits best with the Spartans. In a 76-61 win over Indiana, Walker matched his season high with 15 points, flashing newfound aggressiveness as a spark plug off the bench.

On Tuesday night, when No. 19 Michigan State (18-6, 9-4 Big Ten) travels to Penn State (9-12, 4-9), Spartans coach Tom Izzo hopes to see more of the same.

"Tyson is a really good shooter," Izzo said. "To his credit, he hasn't been taking a lot of shots. I say 'to his credit' because he was trying to fit in and realize he has to be a passer. But I really do need him to take some of those shots."

It was the first game for Walker as a Spartans reserve. Izzo made the switch after consecutive losses to Rutgers and Wisconsin in which Walker scored a combined 10 points and had more turnovers (four) than assists (two).

Taking over the starting job is A.J. Hoggard, who also thrived in his new role on Saturday with 14 points and eight assists before he was ejected for picking up his second technical foul.

Hoggard doesn't have the outside touch of Walker but has excelled as a playmaker. Over the last seven games, Hoggard has 43 assists and just 12 turnovers.

Walker, who averaged 18.8 points per game last year, said he understood why Izzo made the switch.

"I have a job to do. You don't do it, then changes happen," Walker said. "It was perfectly fine with me. I have no problem. I'm always going to be supportive no matter who's starting, who's playing."

The point guards have a favorable matchup at Penn State. The last time the teams met, on Dec. 11, Walker had 10 points and nine assists and Hoggard added seven points and two helpers in an 80-64 win. The Spartans lead the series 42-9.

The Nittany Lions are in the midst of a tough spell, losing their last three games by a combined nine points.

On Saturday night, in a 76-70 loss at Minnesota, Sam Sessoms scored to give Penn State the lead with 3:45 left. But from there, the Gophers outscored the Nittany Lions 11-3.

Penn State fell despite securing a 36-21 edge on the boards and making 54.7 percent of its shots, including 8 of 15 from distance. One big difference was the Gophers' 26-3 edge in points off turnovers.

According to coach Micah Shrewsberry, Penn State also was done in by the officials.

"It's the third game in the row where we've shot under eight free throws," Shrewsberry said in a radio interview. "We were as aggressive as possible, driving the basketball, throwing the ball in the post, doing what we need to do on the offensive glass, and none of those are getting called. And that ain't right."

Losing close games has been a continuing theme as the Nittany Lions have dropped five of their last six contests decided by seven or fewer points. Three of those defeats have come against ranked teams Purdue, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 14, 2022