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Tom Izzo, A.J. Hoggard set record straight on bench altercation at Big Ten Tournament

Spartan Nation on FanNation 3/14/2023 Matthew Lounsberry
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Michigan State's head coach and point guard are back on the same page heading into the NCAA Tournament...

With 11 minutes left of Michigan State's disappointing loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, head coach Tom Izzo had seen enough out of point guard A.J. Hoggard.

Izzo pulled Hoggard, who at that time was limited to three points on 1-for-8 shooting with two assists and two turnovers. In addition to the junior's poor personal numbers, the Spartans had struggled to get into any kind of offensive rhythm throughout the game, which is part of Hoggard's responsibility as the point guard.

“When you’re a point guard in any program, it’s hard," Izzo said. "When you’re in one that has had some of the guys we’ve had – you can look at college basketball and look at Mateen Cleaves and Magic Johnson as two of maybe the best leaders, point guards, ever to play. So, you come into that situation and much is expected, much is demanded. Sometimes, much is not understood.”

There certainly was a misunderstanding between Izzo and Hoggard at this point of the game. After being pulled, the junior made his way to the middle of the bench where Izzo joined him soon after.

Heated discussions between Izzo and Hoggard — or Izzo and any of his point guards for that matter — are nothing new. But this one looked a little different. Izzo was firm and direct, but not demonstrative. Hoggard, meanwhile, didn't make eye contact with his head coach. Whether true or not, he looked dazed, unfocused and apathetic.

“It was just a regular conversation. He was trying to motivate me to play better," Hoggard said of Izzo's message.

“As the point guard here you’re held to a high standard. Sometimes you’re not playing as well as you should be and you’re frustrated at yourself. Sometimes the coaching, you don’t want to be bothered by it sometimes. Not in a bad way, just in a competitive way of yourself knowing you’re already kind of beating yourself up about it. The game wasn’t going the way we wanted it to go. I wasn’t playing my best.”

Eventually, Izzo got up and returned to the front of his bench, leaving Hoggard to his own thoughts.

At the eight-minute mark, Hoggard returned to the game with a rejuvenated fire. The junior scored a quick seven points to help cut Ohio State's lead to 56-50 with just under five minutes left.

Ultimately, it was too little, too late from the Spartans' point guard, but Hoggard's mini burst proved one thing — Izzo still knows the right buttons to push to get the most out of his players.

“It was just one of those moments," Hoggard said. "Coach just being coach, coaching me up and I was just ready to go back in the game so I could go back and respond.”

On Monday, Izzo was asked about the coaching moment on the bench and if he and Hoggard were back on the same page as they begin to prepare for the NCAA Tournament.

“Relationships with players are unique. The truth of it is, what I love about A.J. Hoggard is he is like me. He’s stubborn, he’s a fist-fighter, he’s tougher than nails," Izzo said.

“Point guards matter. They’re our quarterbacks...The quarterback has to be about winning and doing winning things, and sometimes winning things to him are different than winning things to me...Sometimes it’s frustrating for me. I’m sure, sometimes, it’s frustrating for him."

Izzo and Hoggard's mutual stubbornness and differences in opinion have led to multiple in-game disagreements between the pair over the last three years. Those disagreements usually get analyzed closely by fans and the media, but Izzo doesn't care what anybody else thinks of them.

"As far as going down on the bench and sitting down and explaining what I need, and having him look one way and another, and everybody to evaluate that – I don’t really give a damn. It doesn’t even phase me," Izzo said.

According to the head coach, the disagreements and discussions are simple to understand — it's just two competitive guys trying to figure out the best way to help their team win.

In the days since, Izzo said he and Hoggard have discussed the areas where they didn't see eye to eye during the Ohio State game, and he feels good about where his point guard is at mentally, heading into the NCAA Tournament. 

“A.J. is a unique kid. He’s come a long way. If you ask me, he has a chance to still be really good," Izzo said. "Him figuring out how to listen to what we’re saying and yet still have the cockiness and a little arrogance that every great quarterback needs to have is the balancing act.”

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