On a short turnaround after playing Butler on Friday night, Michigan State was back on the hardcourt two nights later to host Alcorn State. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Alcorn State is in southwest Mississippi close to the Louisiana border. They are an HBCU playing in the SWAC. This was not one of the tougher games on MSU’s schedule.
It was announced just before the game started that Michigan State would be playing without leading scorer Tyson Walker, and Tre Holloman would be getting his first career start in his place. From the get-go, it was clear that MSU was going to use this game to shoot itself out of its three-point shooting woes. At first, it looked like we were going to see something like we saw in the first two games as the Spartans missed two triple tries on the first possession and their first three overall. But then the lid opened up. Jaden Akins hit a three, and then Holloman splashed one in, and then there was another trey for Tre, and then Xavier Booker joined the fun when he banked one in. And then there were two more for Tre, and he suddenly had a career high in scoring. For the half, MSU was 6-11 from behind the arc, which is a shocking 55%.
But it was not just the long ball that was going well for the Spartans. Against a smaller and less athletic opponent, MSU was also getting the ball inside. Carson Cooper drew some fouls on the inside and Mady Sissoko got a layup to go, as did perimeter players Akins, Jeremy Fears and Coen Carr. Basically, Sparty demonstrated the difference in talent level between them and the Braves, and they had a comfortable 44-16 lead at the half.
If you thought the first twenty minutes were fun, then you were in for a real treat after halftime. Yes, we saw more three-pointers go in with Holloman, Akins, and Hoggard all connecting from deep. Yes, we saw more good defense; Hall, Carr, Cooper, and Booker had blocks. But the second half was all about the dunking. There was a great feed from Fears to Booker for a dunk. There was a selfless play by Holloman where, after stealing the ball on defense and taking the ball up court uncontested, he tossed it off the backboard for Fears to elevate and slam it down. But the star of the show, unsurprisingly, was Carr. He had three dunks in the second half, the first an alley-oop from Akins and the third a baseline drive. But the second one was the one we will all remember, the one that made everyone in the arena drop their jaws. Carr got the ball down near the right corner and drove along the baseline, elevating from just outside the paint. The defender came up and met him in midair, fouling him but not enough apparently. With both hands on the basketball, Carr threw the ball down toward the rim with incredible force to make sure the foul was not going to prevent him from giving this dunk to Spartan Nation. It actually looked like the ball left his hands a few inches away from the rim, but he was above the iron so it did not matter. If that is not the dunk of the year in college basketball, I can’t wait to see what tops that one.
I cannot in good faith mention any more highlights after that. Michigan State went on to win 81-49. We did have a Steven Izzo sighting, but that ended earlier than planned when he and Davis Smith headbutted one another and each had to leave with their heads bleeding.
3 Things I liked:
- Cooper’s discipline - In only his second game as a starter, Carson continues to look like he belongs out there. He finished with four points (all on FTs), five boards, a steal, and a pair of blocks. While he did have four fouls, it is his discipline in not picking up the fouls that his predecessor at starting center used to that I wish to recognize. We would always see Mady reach over an opponent who would box him out on a rebound and Mady would get called for the foul, rightfully so. But there were a few instances tonight where Cooper went up for a rebound and wisely kept his arms in his own cylinder to avoid fouling the player who had inside position on him. This shows a basketball IQ that Mady does not possess.
- Three-point shooting improving - This probably should have been first, but I want to keep propping up Cooper. Either way, MSU shot 10-25 from behind the arc tonight, led by Holloman’s perfect 5-5. The 40% rate is their best mark of the season and something they need to duplicate if they are going to beat Arizona in 4 days.
- The Freshmen - Booker finished with five points and five rebounds. Fears had nine points to go with five assists. And Carr reached double digits with 11 points on 5-6 shooting. They all played at least 19 minutes.
3 Things I did not like:
- Interior scoring - This is going to be the biggest factor in Thursday’s game. We know MSU’s bigs can play good defense, but they need to be able to contribute at least somewhat offensively, too. I have to give some flack to Cooper as he did not have a single FG attempt officially in this game, though he did get to the line a few times because he was fouled while shooting. Booker only had two shots in the paint, one his dunk and the other a turnaround jumper in the paint that came up short. Sissoko was the most voluminous shooter, going 3-5. We need to attack the basket more, if for no other reason than to try getting Zona’s bigs in foul trouble.
- Free-throw shooting - Tonight we had the bad MSU FT shooting team as they went 11-21 from the line. Izzo was shown on TV repeatedly getting frustrated about it. That is way too many points to leave on the board if you want to beat the best teams.
- Disease prevention - Okay, we won by 32 so I will end on a not so serious note. If Walker was out with an illness, he should at least have been wearing a mask while sitting on the bench.
VICTORY FOR MSU!!!