NEW YORK – Mark “Rocket” Watts received his first career start Tuesday evening on quite possibly the biggest stage in college basketball, a game at Madison Square Garden that saw No. 1-ranked Michigan State and No. 2-ranked Kentucky face off in an absolute battle.
Watts, with all the hype – 64 points scored in a game in high school doesn’t help – came in and played about as well as some would expect a freshman to perform in those circumstances. And his team only lost by seven in a 69-62 loss to the Wildcats.
On the other side, driving hard to his left against Watts late in the game as he pushed another bucket off the glass and in before hitting the 3-pointers to ice the game late from nearly 27 feet was Tyrese Maxey.
The proof that Maxey was ready for the limelight came in the form of 26 points.
Maxey was almost the freshman in green and white too.
MSU was one of the top teams in the recruiting chase for the Garland, Texas native.
He chose the Wildcats over Texas, Oklahoma State, MSU and Michigan.
The Spartans were one of Maxey’s top five choices when he narrowed it down all things said and done.
And as Maxey stepped back with the shot clock winding down on that 3-pointer many saw on SportsCenter the next morning to capitalize his 26-point, five rebound debut – it could seem obvious why the Spartans felt they missed out.
“I recruited Maxey, he visited our place, I love Maxey,” said Tom Izzo after the loss. “Great kid, great family, I mean, you know it’s one of those shots (the 3-pointer that made it 65-60 late) that I don’t know, I think he had to take the shot because the shot clock was almost out. But if it was a little earlier Cal (John Calipari) would’ve killed him.”
Freshmen are seldom as aggressive as Maxey was on this night. Drive after drive he threw himself into the teeth of the defense of MSU.
“He’s a big time player,” said Izzo.
Izzo and the Spartans lost the game Tuesday for other reasons, and although Maxey starring for the Wildcats helped – it was not the only reason.
“There’s no question we thought he was one of the best guards in the country when we recruited him,” said Izzo. “Look at all his intangibles … one of my favorite guys we will go against I’m sure. Hell of a kid.”
It was almost fitting that the same player in Maxey who almost was walking out with Izzo instead of John Calipari had a jaw-dropping type performance.
It seems fitting it would create a storyline like this.
You can follow Joe Dandron on Twitter @JosephDandronMI and contact him at [email protected]