In a game that may have had more meaning to him than most Michigan State basketball players, Rocket Watts led the Spartans past Detroit Mercy.
The confidence of the Spartans was fading and their hopes were dwindling.
With 10:37 left against Detroit Mercy, Michigan State was trailing 59-54 and it appeared as though the Titans were well on their way to upsetting the heavily-favored Spartans. MSU looked unenthusiastic and lethargic. Nightmares of another Mike Davis-led team shockingly upending the Spartans came to mind when the agony resurfaced of the former Indiana coach guiding Texas Southern to a 71-64 overtime win six years ago in the same arena.
Rocket Watts had other ideas.
The team that made the 81-mile trip west to the Breslin Center gave Tom Izzo’s squad a run for their money. Watts was simply not going to let Michigan State lose to his hometown university. He helped hold off the Titans by making three crucial shots, dishing out three excellent assists and knocking down some clutch free throws to spark a rally and ultimately seal the win.
If there were any doubts about his ability to handle the pressure and responsibility that comes with following in the footsteps of Spartan legend Cassius Winston, those can be squashed. He has officially been passed the torch and all signs point to him having the guts, skills and fearlessness to be the next stellar floor general to be handed the keys to a program that has as strong an argument as anyone to be considered “Point Guard U”.
At the tail-end of last season (during a spectacular personal run to help MSU clinch the 2020 Big Ten title) and so far this fall, Watts has proved that he can thrive against top competition. He showed that he also can rise to the occasion and flourish when the moment calls for it against an underdog.
After battling through a bruised knee in the opener vs. EMU, the sophomore has arrived, without question after three incredible performances. He’s getting better with each passing game.
In a win against Notre Dame, Watts tallied 13 points to go along with six assists, he followed that up by cooking Duke for 20 points, then the cherry on top was him scoring a career-high 23 to save the day for a flat MSU team against Detroit Mercy. He’s a dynamic three-level scorer and he’s catching fire at just the right time with conference play set to begin in a couple of weeks.
Way back in July of 2016, Detroit Mercy was the first college to offer him (MSU quickly became his second offer not long after that), so there was surely some extra motivation for him to shine against a team that plays their home games at Calihan Hall which is less than a five-mile drive from Rocket’s first high school, Old Redford.
The Michigan State coaching staff has struck gold in Detroit several times before, mining the likes of Maurice Ager, Kalin Lucas, Keith Appling and Cassius Winston out of the 313. Watts is the latest prized nugget Izzo has extracted from the Motor City.
On a night without the Izzone’s presence to provide the Spartans with an extra boost, Aaron Henry in foul trouble, Josh Langford kept out of the lineup and Joey Hauser banged up, Rocket brought the intensity, put the team on his back and willed them to a victory. His 18.7 point per game outburst over the past three games indicates that he is ready to takeover.
Three. Two. One. Blast off.