In Michigan State’s 2nd game of the season, the Spartans picked up a win over the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles. And while MSU led this game from the moment they went up 2-0 on their opening possession, they still did not look like a team worthy of a high preseason ranking. Going into game number three this coming Tuesday, Tom Izzo has a lot to work on with this bunch. So let’s discuss some of what we saw tonight.
As mentioned, this was a game that MSU led throughout. To be sure, there were some positives to their play, especially in the first half. We were given a much better offensive performance by players who struggled mightily in the first game. Mady Sissoko and Malik Hall, who each scored just four points in the opener, were looking to redeem themselves tonight and they each had eight points at the break on the way to 11 and 12 points, respectively. Mady picked up the double-double as he also came down with ten rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time.
Off the bench, Tre Holloman also started strong, getting all five of his points before halftime. Fellow backcourt backup Jeremy Fears chipped in with four assists before the break. And the team was certainly more locked in on defense, holding USI to just 14 points in the first half, eight of which came from Jordan Tillmon.
But, as I said, this was far from a clean game. The Spartans were 0-5 from deep in the first half, bringing their early season cold spell to a combined 1-25. The Eagles snagged 5 offensive rebounds, and on the other end, MSU missed several scoring opportunities at the rim by their big men. These included two misses from Xavier Booker, one from Carson Cooper, and one from Sissoko when he tried to flush home a rebound (though for some reason that did not appear in the box score as a missed FG). MSU did go to the locker room with a 37-14 lead.
In the second half, after starting off with a quick 6-2 run in just over a minute, the Spartan offense went cold and Southern Indiana went on a 12-0 run going into the under-16 timeout. Izzo made a line change coming out of the commercial including putting in Booker and Cooper into the front court. This is the pairing I have been predicting would become the starters, and the two of them were instrumental in reversing the flow of the second half to that point. Booker scored back-to-back baskets including a thunderous dunk coming down the lane off a great feed from Holloman. Cooper would add a dunk of his own right after and would earn a trip to the line a couple possessions later after collecting an offensive rebound of his own miss. He made both FTs and finished 4-4 on the night after going 0-4 on Monday.
The second half ended up being a draw between the two teams in terms of points scored, 37 apiece, but from the glimpses of Izzo that the BTN cameraman picked up, you would not have known it. We saw several vintage Tom moments of him tearing into one of his players, most notably Jeremy Fears and later Malik Hall when he did not defend well and gave up an open three-pointer, as well as a couple glimpses of Coach with his face in his hands. There were plenty of ugly looking shots and many Spartans were guilty of these on the night, along with some sloppy turnovers and poor box-out efforts. On the night, USI grabbed 13 offensive boards, more than doubling the Spartans total in that column, though MSU did win the overall rebound battle, 37-35.
MSU had a much more balanced scoresheet than they did in the opener with four starters hitting double digits - Sissoko, Hall, Jaden Akins, and Tyson Walker - and no one going over 14 points. AJ Hoggard struggled with his shot again, going 2-7 and not earning any trips to the FT line to finish with four points. All five bench players who played prior to garbage time also scored, though none of them reached double figures. I would like to give a shout-out to Fears for getting his first collegiate field goal. And while I am talking about him, I want to add I am very impressed with his vertical. He had a great block in the first game, and tonight he made a couple nice plays thanks to how high he can elevate. Through two games he only has one turnover while helping out with six assists. You can see a lot of potential in him.
MSU picked up the win by a final of 74-51. I am not filled with a ton of optimism going into our game versus Duke on Tuesday in Chicago. I know Izzo will get this team performing as needed come February and March (and April), but right now there just seems like there are too many things that need to be ironed out for us to be able to take down one of the top-ranked teams in the nation. Until then, let’s enjoy our first win.