The Spartans controlled the game for three separate stretches but mostly let Indiana dictate pace and flow. The Hoosiers simply cruised through the final ten minutes of the game to an eventual 82-69 win. The game did not even feel that close by the end.
Here are my shoot from the hip takes on the game. Like an end of shot clock heave, ready them and let me know what your deep shot after the game is in the comments.
POINT 1: This was an utter blown tire of an effort - a fast car, speeding that careened off into a tree and stayed stuck in the mud
The last 10 days has seen MSU lose three of four games. The first loss at Illinois, felt like a tough road loss that MSU let get away after Malik Hall had to sit out the last 7-minutes due to injury. That game felt regrettable, but explainable.
Then Michigan State played one of the best teams in the country, Purdue, to a stand still at home before losing by 1-point. That game felt like the dreaded, though optimistic, “quality loss.” Then MSU swung into action and dominated a truly quality Rutgers at home. Today, they went on the road and did the worst thing they could: Showed they could win, and then just abandoned the game.
First let’s give credit to Indiana. Indiana has it rolling at the moment. A team that has had its own wild swings throughout the season seems to be figuring it out. Its own slate of injuries to its stars, left the Hoosiers relying on role players and freshmen. Understandably, that didn’t work for a while. In this game it did.
Trayce Jackson-Davis is simply a dude. Coming off 35 at Illinois, the Forward scored 31 against MSU, throwing in 5 blocks just to make it feel worse. That was expected. Hoosier freshman Tamar Bates going 5 of 6 from 3-point land to total a career high 17 points was not.
Indiana exposed MSU’s defensive approach on Trayce Jackson-Davis. The Spartans tried a combination of soft doubles, or “dig downs” by guards, and letting the Spartan big men take him one on one. Neither worked consistently. Particularly the dig down approach left Indiana shooters 0 like the previously mentioned Bates - open to get rolling and stay hot.
It’s games like this that you understand Izzo’s historic dislike of double teams. But instead of picking their poison and rolling with it - like they mostly did against Purdue - MSU looked like they couldn’t pick a strategy. This indecision showed in the game plan and in its execution. Indiana made MSU pay each time they switched it up.
Even with Trayce Jackson-Davis looking unstoppable, MSU made this a game. The first ten minutes of each half largely belonged to the Spartans. The MSU scoring pace was way above their season average. The scoring pace in the first 10 minutes of the first half had the Spartans on track to score a near season high at 80 points. The first 7-minutes of the second half, MSU was even hotter. The problem was the second part of the halves.
The first half could be explained by losing Hoggard to two fouls and some other lineup changes necessitated by fouls. The second half simply looked like MSU gave up.
At about the 7 minute mark, it had been 5 minutes since MSU hit a field goal. Izzo looked frustrated and quiet. A very very bad sign. His normal fire looked absent, as did any sense of leadership from his team.
MSU has a great back court. Hoggard and Walker makde up a duo that should drag their team forward. Add in Hauser and you have three guys with the experience and pose to control things, even on the road.
While Hauser contributed a great scoring night (more on that later), it didn’t seem like any of these three were actually leading the team. Even a series of chippy fouls didn’t seem to light up MSU the way it has recently (see the Sissoko foul triggering a run in the Purdue game).
Blame it on the crowd. Blame it on Walker being sick. Blame it on the phase of the moon. The end result is the same: MSU came out, looked like they could control the game then crumbled into roadkill.
This team is too talented, and too seasoned to have that type of character collapse against any team they play.
POINT 2: Hauser’s big scoring night covers an offensive concern - where do the points come from?
Joey Hauser had himself an offensive game. The final stat line for the graduate forward was 22 points on 6 of 12 shooting (1 of 3 from 3pt) and 9 of 12 FTs. In the first ten minutes of the game, Hauser outscored Indiana personally.
While Hauser did cool down in the second half, and Indiana made him work hard on offense, it was still an impressive game. Hauser scored in a range of ways from his standard 3-point shot, to some stop and pops, to one or two quality post moves to a series of drives that had me thinking he’d swapped bodies with a different player. This loss was not on Hauser, even if Hauser struggled defensively - along with everyone else.
The question is, where do the points come from?
Michigan State is averaging 69 points per game this season. In Big Ten play they are averaging just 66 points a game. They are number 9 in the conference with some of the other defensive minded teams (examples: Rutgers, Wisconsin) and some of the clearer bottom dwellers (example: Minnesota) behind them. The problem is they are a far cry from the top three, 78 per game for Ohio State, 89 for Indiana, and 82 for Iowa.
MSU has a valuable balance in their scoring this year, but still it doesn’t feel like enough. In this game, Tyson Walker was clearly slowed by illness, and his long shot was not on target at all. He still collected 8 points. Hoggard managed to get 11 by the end of the game, but had no field goals until the final 3 minutes of the game.
Today’s eventual respectable point total - that was above the season average - was fueled by Hauser (of course) and Akins with 15. It was also supported by the unexpected 9 points from Jaxon Kohler. (Though now two games in a row, perhaps we can hope Kohler starts contributing that more regularly).
If MSU doesn’t have Hoggard and Walker hunting and hitting shots, it’s going to be a tough road moving forward offensively. In games where MSU can’t keep the opposing team below 65 points, they will need to find offense somewhere.
POINT 3: The Ups and Downs of Relying on Freshman (and Sissoko)
Through injury and roster construction, MSU is pretty late in the year to be relying heavily on the ups and downs of inexperienced players.
We can cry all we want about roster construction and the transfer portal (I have a rant on that coming out soon). The reality is what it is. Games rely on Jaxon Kohler, Carson Cooper, Mady Sissoko and Tre Holloman.
Today showed the promise and problem of that strategy.
Joxon Kohler again looked like a guy figuring it out. Following up his first career double double, Kohler contributed 9 points and 6 rebounds. Despite being exposed defensively, some of the offensive sets made his time on the court look incredibly valuable.
It is such a relief to see real post offense for MSU, it’s almost enough to ignore the missed conversions. Kohler had about three plays where he backed a good defender down 15 feet before putting up a quality shot (making 2 of 3). That has been desperately needed for MSUs offense. This development looks potentially good for this year, and potentially fantastic for future years.
Sissoko also had a pretty decent game. After the worst performance of the year against Rutgers, Sissoko held onto the ball, actually scored on an offensive move, and played decent defense in stretches. He also had a simply terrible stretch that sat him for the final 8 minutes of the first half. Sissoko is still showing flashes of the best version of himself, but it is still wildly erratic.
Beyond this tradeoff at the center position, the other most notable up and down player is Holloman. It’s a lot to ask of a freshman that needs development to help lead this team. That said, after playing a great extended stretch against Rutgers, where the young point guard did all the little things, he was a net negative in this game.
Holloman came in for Hoggard at about the 8 minute remaining mark in the first half after Hoggard got his second foul. The offense - and at times defense - fell apart with Holloman leading the way.
Holloman shows flashes of a future leader for MSU. One game should not dim that future. The problem is the here and now. Twenty games into the season, paying consistently in valuable minutes your no longer “just a freshman.”
It’s a tall task, but like Indiana who is turning to their freshman for big minutes, MSU needs to find that consistency in its freshman - and one of its Juniors. These inexperienced players need to raise their floor, so the team as a whole can raise its ceiling.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what your takeaway from the game in the comments.