This was the first of four home games in an eight-day stretch that MSU will play against non-major conference teams of varying-but-clearly-lesser ability. Given the youth of the team and the short turnarounds between the games, it's fair to expect some ragged stretches of basketball. Today, I thought the team played more than acceptably. Any time you hold your opponent to an effective FG% of 25.4%, it's hard to get too worked up about anything else.
MSU only allowed one Tiger player to make more than even a third of his field goal attempts (4-9 for forward Fred Sturdivant). Texas Southern pulled down 15 offensive rebounds, but that was largely a function of having so many missed shots to go after--many of them on long rebounds off bad three-point looks (5-31 for TSU on threes).
The offense wasn't terribly explosive, scoring just barely over a point per possession (alas, no tacos). That was partly a function of a poor three-point shooting, as the Spartans hit only 2 of 13 shots from beyond the arc. Russell Byrd, who looks oh so close to connecting on every attempt, and Denzel Valentine, who doesn't look close at all, were the main culprits, combining to go for 0-7. Valentine continues to do everything thing else very well, putting up 8 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and just 1 turnover in 22 minutes. Brandan Kearney continues to be solid (2 points and 1 turnover in 17 minutes), but Valentine makes his presence on the court much more clear.
Tom Izzo also used some lineups that seemed designed to limit scoring. The offense clicked just fine when the starters were on the floor, led by Gary Harris and his Charlie Bell-esque 19 points on 10 field goal attempts. Branden Dawson posted 13 points to go with 6 rebounds and 5 steals, while Keith Appling had a quiet day at the office (4 points, 4 assists).
Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne combined for 15 points and 18 rebounds in 37 minutes (some of them overlapping). I had the chance to sit down in the first row of the Izzone today (pays to tweet your seat!) and was really struck by Nix's improved presence on the defense glass, where all 11 of his rebounds were grabbed, even it was against lesser-sized opposition. Alex Gauna started the game in place of Nix, but Izzo indicated that was just a case of wanting to try different lineups out.
The most interesting information to emerge from this game was perhaps Matt Costello's productivity in his Spartan debut. He put up 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just 11 minutes coming off the tailbone injury that prevented him from playing in the team's first four games (including the exhibitions). He looked like a true freshman at moments, but generally moved well defensively and looks like he'll provide some real competition to Gauna (2 points on 5 shots, 3 rebounds, and 2 turnovers in 14 minutes) as the first true big off the bench.
Next up is Boise State Tuesday night (8:00, BTN). The Broncos beat this same Texas Southern team by 18 points and are ranked #88 by KenPom, so they should provide a somewhat stiffer test.