Coming off a rough 1-3 stretch, Michigan State was just about in must-win mode. After their first three-day rest in weeks, the Spartans hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes on a Thursday night. And just before tip-off, the commentators announced that Malik Hall would be playing (I’m sure you twitterers knew this earlier).
Game Flow Highlights:
Michigan State rolled out with the familiar starting five, and Mady Sissoko familiarly won the jump-ball. From there, it would be a while before MSU did anything right. The Spartans would go scoreless in the opening segment of the game and gave up buckets to four different Hawkeyes to trail by 8 at the first commercial. Mady did not even make it that long, getting yanked after committing his first foul two minutes in. Malik Hall came in at that point, the only thing the Breslin crowd had to cheer about in the first four minutes.
Coming out of that commercial, MSU was caught sleeping and Iowa found their star, Kris Murray, cutting for a quick dunk to make it 10-0. On the very next trip, Tyson Walker finally got the lid off the basket and hit a triple. After a stop, Joey Hauser cut it down to a five-point game. Mady, back in the game, would split a pair of FTs, and then Malik Hall would score on his first shot, a pretty move into the lane where he lost his defender on a spin move, then threw in an extra spin the other way just for style points before swishing a jumper from the stripe. Hall would show off some more nice moves on their next possession, but he could not get the layup to go on that one. The Spartans did a good job here getting the deficit down to 4 at the 2nd break.
AJ Hoggard would be the next Spartan in the scoring column, as he split two defenders up top as he came around a screen, then drove to the basket for a layup. After giving up a couple baskets, Jaden Akins hit a 3 for his first points. On the next Spartan trip, Walker missed a layup, but this time Mady was there to slam home the rebound. Going back on defense, MSU forced a stop, and Mady collected the rebound and was immediately fouled. The home team had an empty possession after the foul and Iowa’s Payton Sandfort hit a 3 to push their lead up to 22-17 at the under-8. I took a quick look at the box score at this point and saw that Filip Rebraca already had scored 8. Between him (son of a former Detroit Piston) and the two McCaffrey boys who are regulars in the Iowa rotation, I had gotten a little feeling of jealousy, wishing our three Sons Of Famous Fathers (SOFFs - that is going to catch on, right?) were as good as our opponent’s.
Malik Hall split a pair of FTs coming back from break, as MSU’s free-throw troubles persisted. At least in this game, Iowa reciprocated. On the next offensive possession, Akins turned it over, but he hustled back to make a beautiful, Tayshaun Prince-esque block on Kris Murray. From here, MSU would score six straight points to take their first lead. The shot that put them in front was a powerful, driving dunk by Hall that possibly drew the loudest cheers of the night. Hoggard made it a three-point lead, capping a 9-1 run, after the Spartans stopped the Hawkeyes, but then the visiting team came back with a couple layups to reclaim a one-point advantage. They would trade baskets, with a cherry-picking Murray getting a dunk off a Hoggard turnover. Around this time, I had noticed that Pierre Brooks had been in the game. His defense was looking more sound than it had in his last few games, but on offense, the ball was (purposefully?) not making its way to him. And just as I was having this thought, Brooks got the ball. And of course, he immediately was looking for his shot. He tried to back up his defender, then turned for the jumper, and missed badly, but got bailed out with a foul call (though the commentator did say that McCaffrey got called for blocking out on the rebound so who knows what happened). Pierre would sink both freebies, and those would turn out to be the last points of the first half. MSU went to the locker rooms with a 30-29 lead. Akins and Hall were leading MSU’s offense with 7 apiece. Joey Hauser was looking a bit off so far in this one.
To open the second half, Kris Murray got the ball inside, and after missing a layup, managed to tip it in high off the rebound to put Iowa back up. Both teams displayed some good offense. Mady chipped in a basket and another split free-throw trip, and Hauser hit a triple. For Iowa, Ahron Ulis started to assert himself, scoring 7 of their next 9, and the visitors led 40-36 at the under-16.
Jaden Akins would hit his second three shortly thereafter, but then there was a series of unintelligent plays by the Spartans. Jaxon Kohler, who had only seen limited minutes so far in this one, got caught in the air by Rebraca and gave up an &1. Then Hauser threw a pass out of bounds, and on the next possession, almost threw another one away, this time in the backcourt, but Hoggard was alert enough to recover it. All this earned Joey a trip to his chair. Suddenly the offense did some nice things. Hall scored on a strong move for a layup. Next time down, Brooks got an offensive rebound; I was certain he was about to go up for a shot, but then he made a beautiful feed down low to Mady, who hit a short jumper. MSU trailed by two at the second commercial break of the half.
Jaden Akins was putting in a great defensive game tonight, now getting a steal on the first play back. At the other end, Mady collected an offensive rebound and slammed the ball to get himself into double digits, the third Spartan to do so at that point. The game was tied, and then we saw some basket trading. MSU got back-to-back triples by Hauser, but each time they would get the lead, they would immediately relinquish it. Izzo called a timeout to talk about just that, and a minute later, at the under-8, it was tied at 53.
The pattern of grabbing a lead and quickly surrendering it repeated itself, and Iowa continued their struggles from free-throw land. Neither team could really capitalize on the others’ mistakes, and the game was even at 59 at the under-4. A couple of scoreless minutes opened the last segment of the game; Iowa added to their missed FT tally when Ulis missed the front of a 1-and-1, and both teams were suddenly struggling to hit shots.
Tyson Walker ended the scoreless drought with a jumper at the 1:24 mark. Jaden Akins would hit his own jumper to put MSU up four, which was remarkably their largest lead of the night. Iowa would respond with McCaffrey scoring to make it just a two-point MSU lead with 35 seconds to go. Iowa then had to commit three fouls to get into the penalty and send MSU to the line. With 20 seconds remaining, AJ Hoggard - an 81% FT shooter on the season - went to the line for a 1-and-1… and he missed it badly. Iowa collected the rebound, brought it up court, and called timeout with eight seconds to go.
Their inbounds pass from the sideline went across the court to the far elbow. It was caught in the air and then immediately passed out to Sandfort who had gotten wide open just outside the 3-point arc. He rose up and shot but it did not go. McCaffrey corralled the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to Sandfort, who was open again. Fortunately for the Spartans, Sandfort
had trouble with the snap mishandled the catch, and by the time he was able to control it, he was forced to shoot it with a defender right on him. He missed again and the buzzer sounded before anyone else had a chance to do anything. The Spartans escaped with an uncomfortable 63-61 win.
This game was one of the more stressful games in recent memory. I honestly never felt comfortable about Michigan State’s odds to pull this one off. When AJ went to the line late with a chance to make it a two-possession game, something told me he would miss the front end, that something being his (as well as the team’s as a whole) recent troubles from the stripe. And then both of those 3-pointers from Sandfort felt like they were happening in slow motion. There were a lot of things that MSU did good, but usually they were immediately followed by them doing something not so good. But in the end, they did just enough more good than bad to overcome the early 10-0 deficit and get the win.
3 Things I Liked:
- Balanced scoring. The Spartans had five players in double figures, including four starters. The other starter, Hoggard, had a not-horrible 7 points, though his 3-12 on FGs could have been better. Yes, I would have liked one of these players to have gone off and shot a little better so MSU could have won a little more comfortably. But I mention this as a like because it felt like, for the first time in a long time, there wasn’t anyone who was a net-negative (e.g. Brooks in the last game) on this team. Everyone was a contributor and every contribution was needed tonight.
- Vintage Mady. And by vintage I mean from those two games earlier in the season. Sissoko tallied 10 and 10 tonight, earning a double-double which the commentators stated was his first, but I learned last time not to trust what these guys say so I would appreciate it if someone lets me know if I am spreading fake news again. It wasn’t all good Mady as he still certainly whiffed on some rebounds and his defense surrendered a few baskets to Rebraca, but he definitely appeared to have a bit more edge to his game than the last several contests. He was aggressive going for rebounds and he was decisive going back up for second-chance points. He even had a couple nice moves where he put the ball on the floor and shook the defender. If we can get this version of Mady regularly, this is a whole different team.
- Malik Hall back in action. And let me tell you he looked like he had never been away. His first shot was a thing of beauty. His drives were strong. His dunk to give MSU their first lead indicated he knew the moment was big and he needed to punctuate it. He finished with 11 points along with 3 assists and 4 rebounds. That is a solid stat line for any relief player, and it’s just made that much more impressive by the fact he has missed as much time as he has. It is not just the stats, though. He brings a tremendous amount of energy and provides confidence to his teammates. It is more than likely that MSU doesn’t win if Malik had had to sit out one more game.
3 Things I Did Not Like:
- Free throw struggles. This has been a theme for a few games now. MSU finished the game 7 for 12, way below their team average. Luckily, Iowa was even more putrid, going 6 for 13. With how they have been missing these lately, something deep in my stomach told me that AJ was going to miss that FT with 20 seconds to go. It was all just a part of the whole sense of discomfort I had during the entire game, so it just seemed logical that he would miss this. Maybe they spend a little more time in practice this week working on this part of their game. They are better than this, so maybe it is nerves or something and hopefully they shoot themselves out of the “slump” very soon.
- I will give the defense a lot of credit in tonight’s victory. Iowa averages over 81 PPG. Tonight they were held to 61, their 2nd lowest output of the season (only scored 50 @ Nebraska? Wow!). And they kept their leading scorer, Murray ten points below his average. But to balance that out, they allowed Ahron Ulis to go for a career high, continuing a theme of MSU letting players have their best-ever games against us. Usually their 7th man, according to minutes and points, this guy kept them in the game and often looked like he could do whatever he wanted on offense. Should a defensive adjustment have been made by the coaching staff to address his strong performance?
- I got to go at Joey Hauser tonight. Sure he hit some big shots, including a beautiful corner rainbow, and was one of our leading scorers, but he did not seem mentally engaged for large stretches of this one. The throw-aways returned in this game. The soft defense reappeared. Izzo generally has a longer leash with Hauser than he does with most other players, but tonight, Izzo had to yank Hauser a couple times in reaction to his poor level of play. It was reminiscent of last year’s Joey. I thought we had turned a corner, but tonight reminded me that it can still show up. Hopefully he got it out of his system and he is more checked in for the next one as a win in that game would absolutely be our biggest of the season.
Michigan State is going back to the Hoosier State for the second consecutive weekend, this time to visit the #1 team in the nation, the Purdue Boilermakers, as they try to avenge a one-point loss from just two weeks ago. Hopefully the return of Malik Hall will be enough to get MSU over the top in the rematch.