Aaron Henry willing Michigan State basketball to NCAA Tournament

Aaron Henry, Michigan State basketball Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Henry, Michigan State basketball Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

After dropping 22 points, including a 12-point spurt on his own in the second half, Aaron Henry is willing Michigan State basketball to the NCAA tourney.

Three-fourths of the way into Tuesday’s matchup against Indiana, Michigan State was firmly entrenched in an ugly, physical slugfest with their familiar Big Ten adversary. Then, in an instant, Aaron Henry decided to take matters into his own hands.

Two fastbreak run-outs led to back-to-back buckets from Gabe Brown on laser passes from Henry. That gave the Spartans a shot in the arm and sparked a much better offensive attack which yielded just as many points in the final 10:34 as Michigan State was able to muster throughout the course of the first 29:26 of the game.

The official takeover by Henry began when Indiana inched ahead with a 49-48 advantage at the 4:47 mark. No. 0 went on a tear from that point on, carving up the Hoosier defense during a dazzling personal 12-point scoring blitz. By the time Henry was through imposing his will, the Spartans had surged ahead by eight with 45 seconds to play. He singlehandedly iced the game with an incredibly clutch performance just as Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament life was on the line.

In what was the most important game of the year to date for the Spartans, the 6-foot-6 junior simply was not going to let his team lose against his home-state Hoosiers. His 18-point second half was truly remarkable.

On a night when Tom Izzo’s ball handlers struggled mightily (A.J. Hoggard and Rocket Watts were both scoreless while playing a combined 29 minutes), Henry logged 37 gutty minutes to stuff the stat sheet (22 points, eight rebounds and five assists) and quieted the Hoosiers.

Surely we can’t ignore how crucial the collective defensive effort from Michigan State’s big men on Trayce Jackson-Davis were in limiting him to a season-low nine points. Marcus Bingham Jr.’s length specifically gave the star Indiana forward fits.

We also have to highlight the fantastic production from the wings running alongside Henry. Joshua Langford and Gabe Brown both scored in double figures and hauled in seven rebounds apiece.

In the end though, Henry’s poise and efficiency proved to be the difference. On two different occasions, he made his way into the lane to calmly drain floaters with a second remaining on the shot clock. He sank a huge three, knocked down some big free throws and had a key steal on a dig from the elbow down to the post. He did it all and was the closer the Spartans desperately needed.

Henry’s brilliant play has him in consideration for first-team All-Big Ten honors. It has him in the conversation to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft pick as well.

Yet Henry could care less about personal accolades at the moment. He just wants to win and if he can carry Michigan State to an NCAA Tournament berth, he will long be remembered as the catalyst who got them there against all odds.

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