Basketball

Couch: Against MSU, Jalen Hayes proves himself but misses opportunity

Spartans struggle to stop the Oakland star and former Lansing Sexton standout, but Hayes let emotions turn into foul trouble

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Oakland's Jalen Hayes, a Lansing Sexton alum, drives to the basket before scoring over MSU's Matt Van Dyk early on during their game Wednesday night at Breslin Center.

Oakland’s Jalen Hayes, a Lansing Sexton alum, drives to the basket before scoring over MSU’s Matt Van Dyk early on during their game Wednesday night at Breslin Center.

EAST LANSING – Oakland might have beaten Michigan State Wednesday night.

If only Jalen Hayes wasn’t from Lansing. If only he didn’t let his emotions overtake him. That’s not usually Hayes’ style. Oakland coach Greg Kampe hadn’t seen it from him before.

Hayes scored 11 points over 12 minutes and picked up five fouls. His fault entirely. He was both brilliant and careless. The best description of his night: brief. Three of the five fouls were obvious calls. Three of them were dumb and avoidable. Hayes deserved some level of culpability for all five, replays showed. In a game marred by 54 fouls, Hayes’ five had nothing to do with poor officiating.

“It was really frustrating, not being able to help my guys on the court,” said Hayes, a 6-foot-7 redshirt junior power forward out of Lansing Sexton High School. “It impacted the game obviously. I’m a big part of the offense.”

Hayes wanted to come home and show everyone who he’d become as a leading man. His old high school teammates, Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes, were no longer the headliners in this matchup. Kay Felder was no longer Oakland’s star. All three of those guys are in the NBA. Hayes’ old high school coach, Carlton Valentine, was watching courtside Wednesday. MSU was vulnerable in the post. The opportunity was great. On the first possession of the game, Hayes posted up MSU’s Matt Van Dyk, drove to the middle of the court and scored over him with a lefty jump hook.

“If he played 40 (minutes) he probably would have had 36 points. It was pretty evident they couldn’t guard him, and our offense runs through him,” Kampe said after his team’s 77-65 loss to the Spartans at Breslin Center. “His first foul is 94 feet from the basket. His third, fourth and fifth foul are just ridiculous.

“We need him on the floor. Hopefully, it’s a learning thing for him. You come home. You want to play well here, I’m sure he does. It’s his hometown. I’m sure he wants to prove a lot of things. It’s hard to prove them sitting next to me if you let your emotion get into you like that. And I’ve never seen him (do that).

“I think it’s the single most important factor in the outcome of the game is he played 12 minutes.”

We’ll never know if that’s truly the case. You can’t complain if you don’t give yourself a chance. Hayes did make 3 of 4 shots, scoring from on the block and beyond arc and going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

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“Jalen … if you think I’m going to feel sorry for anybody with what’s happened to us this year,” Tom Izzo began Wednesday, referencing his own team’s bad luck with players missing, albeit due to injury.

“I have great respect for that kid. I know the game’s important to him. I know he was very well coached in high school. When I look at what Carlton’s guys have done as they’ve moved on, there’s a guy that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He’s done an unbelievable job with so many different kinds of players. I told Jalen after, I’m proud of him. But they made some stupid fouls and so did we. And then there were some bizarre fouls.”

After last year’s MSU overtime win against Oakland in Auburn Hills, Izzo opened his press conference by saying he perhaps blew it by not recruiting Hayes, who was a year behind Valentine, Forbes and Anthony Clemmons at Sexton. It had become apparent then that Hayes had turned himself into a helluva player. Izzo didn’t need him last year. He could use him now.

“He’s a guy who just does his job,” Izzo said earlier this week. “He’s not talking a lot of crap. He doesn’t get frustrated if he doesn’t get the ball. He just does his job. He’s got a very good left-hand jump hook. He plays good defensively. He plays hard. He goes to the boards. To me, he’s the ultimate glue guy of that team. … He’s there to answer the bell all the time.”

Wednesday being the exception.

“Even before the year even started, I sat down and talked to Coach Kampe, and he told me this year’s got to be my year,” Hayes said. “I’ve got to dominate inside. I’m a very experienced guy. This is my fourth year here. We’ve got a lot of young guys here.”

Hayes has always been best as a complementary player — last year to Felder specifically. Even now, he’s not usually a vocal or flamboyant player. He’s a “quiet star,” Kampe said.

“I was concerned with Felder leaving how (Hayes) would do, because he played off Felder so well,” Kampe said. “He’s really made himself a force on the block. If he gets the ball down there, he’s a very, very tough guard.”

Hayes led the Horizon League in rebounding last year, earning second-team all-conference honors. This year, he was selected to the preseason first team. He’s become an expected star. Wednesday, he wanted to show everyone in his hometown that he was a star — at any level of college basketball. He did. Well, for a few minutes.

“I’m being, trying to be mature as a player,” he said afterward hiding his frustration well, “and not let that stick with me, because that’s not going to help at all anyway.”

Contact Graham Couch at gcouch@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

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