Michigan State was riding high through the first half of January and was sitting in a tie for first place in the Big Ten standings going into Friday night. The team they were tied with, Purdue, handled Nebraska in the early game of a doubleheader. The Spartans would need to win their 8th straight to keep pace.
Game Flow Highlights:
We will go through the first half a little quicker as it is inherently less dramatic. Really all you need to know about the beginning of this game is the name Terrence Shannon Jr. Terrence scored 15 of Illinois’ first 19 points (though he would not score again until the game’s final minute). MSU, on the other hand, countered with a more balanced offensive game.
Starting with Mady Sissoko’s dunk to tie the game at 19, MSU went on an 8-0 run to take the lead 25-19. Not to be outdone, the Illini responded with a 7-0 run of their own to take a 26-25 lead. Jaden Akins came back with a layup at the other end to give MSU the lead at the under-8.
Coming out of the commercial, there was a short Carson Cooper highlight reel with a couple of buckets and a few rebounds at both ends to help extend the Spartans’ lead to five at the final break of the first half.
In the last segment, Hoggard split his free throws on two consecutive possessions, preventing the students from winning some sort of chicken nugget giveaway. (It is this writer’s opinion that the chicken nugget is the absolute lowest tier of fast-food menu items.) And the Spartans caught some good luck not to give up a bucket just before the buzzer. Illinois had 3 offensive rebounds on their last possession, but they could not get any of their putbacks to drop. The score at the half was 37-33 Michigan State.
Some halftime stats: AJ Hoggard led his team with 10, followed by Tyson Walker with 8. An attacking offense scored 28 of their 37 in the paint. On the flipside, Mady had 2 fouls. Shockingly, the Spartans had only 3 assists on their 17 FGs. And they were 0-2 on 3s.
For Illinois, Terrence Shannon had 15, Stan Lee character Dain Dainja was next with 8, and Matt Mayer (Coach Underwood apparently seeking out alliterative names on the recruiting trail) had 4 blocks as a part of the team’s 7. And they shot 3-11 on 3s.
The teams traded jumpers to open the second half. On the Spartans’ next possession, Sissoko and Walker combined for 3 FTs, sandwiched around a Hauser offensive rebound. And Mady would add a layup on the next trip. Michigan State looked like they were getting ready to blow this game open, but some more blocks by Mayer and a couple turnovers by the Spartans slowed that down. It was a 7 point lead at the under-16, and we saw Izzo and Hoggard having a heated discussion as the broadcast cut away to commercial (and Lil’ Izzo was in there trying to mediate).
It was a mostly uneventful stretch leading to the under-12. It opened with a technical foul against Underwood, and Joey Hauser would hit both free throws. But Hoggard was on the bench, and MSU had a series of bad possessions, many ending in turnovers. Fortunately, they still led 50-45 at the whistle.
Here’s where it started getting ugly. In a very short period of time, the referees whistled five fouls on MSU. The man who had until now mostly left his mark by blocking shots, Mayer, suddenly went off for 7 quick points capped off by a 3, and the game was tied at 54. This led to an MSU Timeout at the 9-minute mark. It was the first tie since 19-19. After the huddle, Illinois got a stop, and then Walker took a shot while trying to draw the foul. Dainja would hit 2 FTs to give Illinois the lead. Malik Hall hurt his foot on the next possession. And then Mayer buried another 3. Suddenly the Spartans were trailing 54-59 and they took another timeout at 7:26.
Valiantly, MSU came out strong after the under-8, going on a quick 6-1 run with a couple midrange jumpers by Hoggard and a drive by Walker on a broken play to tie the game. But the home team responded with a Coleman Hawkins 3 and then a Dainja putback to make it 60-65 at the last TV timeout.
Hoggard woud score 4 points on MSU’s next two possessions, but he could not get any help from his supporting cast. There were missed triples and a sudden inability to keep Illinois from getting offensive rebounds. MSU only sent the Illini to the FT line once intentionally, and the Spartans fell by a final score of 75-66. It was a second half that MSU seemed like they were in control of, but something happened and the home team ended the game on a 30-14 run over the final 11 minutes. The winning streak is over.
3 Things I Liked:
- AJ becoming the Alpha. There was plenty of talk at the beginning of the season that MSU would be playing a 2-PG system, with Hoggard and Walker both having possessions where they would be the floor general. As we are just about at the midpoint of the season, it has become clear that Hoggard has taken over the majority of this responsibility. He is usually the one taking it up court, pushing tempo when he sees the opportunity, calling out the plays, and directing traffic. This has relegated Walker into more of a 2-guard role, leaving him to run around and find space for open shots, or on occasion when he has the ball late in the shot-clock, to create his own shot off the dribble. But more than just being the creator for this team, AJ has developed a sense of knowing when the team needs him to get points. He has greatly improved at creating his own shots off the dribble and has become a consistent midrange shooter. He has been the leading scorer in 2 of the last 3 games.
- Carson Cooper quickly developing. Not sure if Jaxon Kohler is in the coach’s doghouse or if it has just been a result of matchups, but the third freshman in this recruiting class has suddenly been the featured rookie on the team these past two games. He has shown a good feel for how to move in conjunction with the ball handler to be available for passes down low, and has regularly put himself in the right place to grab rebounds on both ends of the floor. Let's see if he has permanently supplanted Kohler as Mady’s backup.
- Time to use my imagination as there really wasn’t an obvious third item for this list. So how about a nod to Mady for playing disciplined defense in the second half after being stuck on the bench for most of the first half after he collected his second foul. He would end the game with only one more violation.
3 Things I Did Not Like:
- Zero for seven from three. Akins went 0-3. Hauser went 0-2. Walker missed his only attempt. That is not enough opportunities for the team as a whole. I understand there was a game plan to go inside more, and that definitely seemed effective in the first half. But in the second, when Mayer started hitting deep shots for Illinois, we were not able to answer. Just one make at some point in the game would have changed the whole complexion coming down the stretch. Someone needs to make a shot.
- Team looking lost without Hoggard. There were some real ugly stretches of basketball when AJ was on the bench. The team seems to lose any offensive rhythm when he steps out. Turnovers and other empty possessions seem commonplace. Tyson Walker needs to sharpen those PG skills.
- Getting blocked ten times, only blocking them twice. It was not just Matt Mayer stuffing shots for Illinois, as even without his six they had more than the Spartans. And MSU’s starting frontcourt of Mady and Joey had none. Got to do better in this category.
MSU returns home for a Martin Luther King Day matinee. They battle Purdue Monday at 2:30 at the Breslin for a chance to climb back into a tie atop the B1G standings.