Michigan State went to Purdue to play the nation’s top team. There was reason for optimism amongst the Spartan faithful after taking this team down to the last shot less than two weeks earlier, and that was without Malik Hall. Izzo and company knew what they needed to do, having done it previously. They just needed to do it a little bit better.
Early on, MSU gave its fans reason to believe that optimism was warranted. The two teams traded baskets and the lead in the first few possessions. The Spartan shooters looked engaged from the get-go, a rarity in recent times. The good times did not last, however, and after the first TV timeout, it was just about all Purdue, and more specifically, all Zach Edey. Rather than kicking out my usual game flow highlights, I am opting to skip that today. It would just be a whole bunch of “Edey scores downlow” over and over; after putting up a career-high 32 points in East Lansing on January 16, Edey blew by that for a new personal best 38.
Aside from the big guy doing whatever he wanted against the MSU defense, the Spartan offense could not get any rhythm in this one. Aside from one short spurt in the second half where the road team trimmed the lead from 20 down to 10 at around the 11:00 mark, a run which occurred mostly with Edey getting a breather, the Spartans had to rely mostly on isolation plays. In the final box score, MSU had an assist on less than 50% of their makes.
If MSU knew what they needed to do, then we just need to give credit where credit is due. Purdue is just a very good team. They milked their plan A to the max today, got enough contributions from the rest of their lineup, and allowed MSU to commit enough self-inflicted damage that they were unable to keep up. So rather than giving a recap, which would just really depress me, I am going straight to the analysis. You are welcome to tell me if I have let you down by this in the comments.
3 Things I Liked:
- AJ Hoggard had a bounce back game. After possibly having his worst game of the season a game prior, Hoggard put up 20 and 6 in this one. He was muscling inside, making layups or drawing fouls (7-9 FTs), and even hit 1 of his 2 triple-tries. Like usual, he was the main distributor of the ball and he was often looking to push pace when getting the defensive rebound or an outlet pass. Unfortunately for AJ, the best player in this game was wearing a different jersey.
- Jaden Akins is becoming the most consistent player on this team. We had a large debate on TOC about a month back about which player would go to the bench once Malik Hall was reintegrated into the lineup. Most of us believed it would be Akins. Well, most of us, myself included, were wrong. In the last 7 games, Akins has been in double figures 5 times. He is usually good for a few assists and a handful of rebounds. The biggest development in his game, in my opinion, has been his defense; he has been contributing steals and blocks, making the argument that maybe he, and not Walker, is the best on-ball defender on this squad. I’m not saying he is the best player on the team. I just am saying that he has learned how to play within this system, his shot is highly dependable, and at this point, I feel pretty comfident about what his performance is going to be in each game.
- Pierre Brooks hit a triple. This is not sarcasm, though I admit it does come off as such. But in a game where MSU did not do much good, I am hoping that having Pierre seeing one go in from deep will pay dividends for the team as the level of competition gets easier going forward. Hopefully he can take the one he made today and turn that into two or three in the next game. That is the biggest thing Brooks can do to contribute to the rotation.
3 Things I Did Not Like:
- Joey Hauser is a model of inconsistency. Yes, Joey is a better player than he was last year. Yes, his 3-point shot is a weapon. Yes, he can be a reliable rebounder. And yes, he has even shown an ability to score in the lane. But while Akins seems to regularly score within a fixed range of points, Joey’s output tends to swing wildly from game to game, and even from half to half. On top of that, he may be the biggest culprit of unforced errors. Today we saw the heel-on-the-sideline turnover. We saw passes with no velocity on them get easily picked off. The biggest issue I take with Hauser is his tendency to shrink when the team starts to struggle. Today he only took four shots. This simply does not work. Joey needs to learn to stay engaged no matter the game situation. He needs to be looking for ways to put the ball in the basket. He is probably one of two players on this team, Walker being the other, that I would want to see continue to shoot the ball even if he misses several in a row. But a lot of that is going to come from him continuing to believe in himself and have confidence that he can score. Sadly, it feels like he can lose this confidence too easily sometimes.
- Zach Edey. It’s not that I don’t like him. He’s a gifted player and I would welcome someone like him on my team any day. But I did see something in his game today that I took issue with. I always try my best to not to talk about referees and bad/missed calls in a game being the reason a team lost. And to be clear, the point I am about to make would not have changed the result of today’s contest. That said, there must have been three or four times today where, after Edey caught the ball down low with his back to the basket and a defender right on his back, he would turn to his left and drive his left elbow into the defender’s chest to clear out space for him to go up for his short-range shot. This needs to be called as an offensive foul, similar to how a hook would be called as such. If we talk about vertical cylinders as a player’s space, Edey is regularly violating this space and doing it forcefully, relying on his size to make the officials think, “Oh, that is just how big he is.” Well, I am not buying it. As some of you have pointed out in previous comments sections, it will be interesting to see to see what happens in the tournament when there are referees from other conferences; will they call Edey’s style differently?
- Speaking of Edey, can someone please explain to me Painter’s decision to send him back out in the last two minutes with the game way out of reach? The announcers were correct to comment about it repeatedly. There was no reason for him to be there. He already had a career-high. What was Edey trying to accomplish? That was poor form.
The Spartans players can focus on getting to class this week, as they don’t have another game until Saturday when they play Rutgers at Madison Square Garden. Tipoff is at noon. MSU will try to earn the season-sweep against the Scarlet Knights.