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AJ Hoggard has clutch career game in Illinois win

AJ Hoggard was unstoppable.

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AJ Hoggard
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

AJ Hoggard has been criticized heavily this season, but he posted a career game in the Spartans’ win over No. 10 Illinois.

What a thrilling game we just witnessed in East Lansing on Saturday. Michigan State knocked off No. 10 Illinois 88-80 in the Spartans’ best win of their season.

Many guys played outstanding, but none were better than AJ Hoggard. He has games from time to time where he is the best player on the floor, but Saturday’s win is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen from him.

AJ Hoggard dominates both sides of the floor

AJ was dominant against Illinois on both sides of the floor. First on offense, he led MSU with a season-high 23 points. He also added two rebounds, five assists, and zero turnovers. AJ was also the spark that helped propel Michigan State on their late run to win this game. We’ll touch on his defense next, but that transition three late in the second half was the turning point in this game. It got the Breslin Center crowd rocking and gave the Spartans all the momentum to finish the game strong.

Now looking at the defensive end of the floor, Hoggard was just as dominant. Hoggard had the Illini guards in a torture chamber all game. The plays that stood out the most were his two steals that led to easy layups on the other end, but he was a menace defensively all day. Whether it be forcing awkward passes or breaking up the rhythm of their offense, AJ arguably impacted the game even more defensively.

This is the exact game you expect from your senior point guard. Especially coming off two poor performances, AJ was everything and more against Illinois. And to top it all off, Hoggard was 12-for-13 from the free throw line. Now that sounds like a nearly perfect game to me.

Was this AJ’s best game as a Spartan?

After a performance like that it begs the question, was this his best game ever? Only one other game stands out to me that could be better, and that was the Spartans’ Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State last year. In that game, AJ finished with 25 points, six assists, two rebounds and two blocks. But I think Saturday’s game was far better from Hoggard.

Hoggard, offensively, was very similar in these two games, but his defense is the difference maker. Not that he played bad defense in last year’s game, but his defense stood out in a big way against Illinois. Add in the fact that MSU won compared to them losing to Kansas State, and I think that makes this win over Illinois the best game of his career.

The next step for Hoggard is consistency. This is the thing he’s struggled with all his career, but it’s what MSU needs now. That doesn’t mean he needs to score 20-plus points each game, that would be expecting too much. But he can’t have games like we saw against Minnesota where he essentially had no positive impact on the game.

Can he keep this momentum going? We’ll find out soon enough as the Spartans travel to Penn State on Wednesday.

Go green.

Lead writer for Spartan Shadows since April 2023, writing over 450 articles. Michigan State basketball, football and recruiting expert. Class of 2019 graduate from Michigan State University specializing in Sports Management. Daily MSU runs a popular X page (@daily_msu) covering all things MSU Sports.

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