Michigan State had themselves a must-win game today after dropping their conference opener earlier in the week. The season that began with national championship aspirations has already seen MSU fall out of the rankings. A stat shown on TV during the broadcast said the 4-4 start is among the worst starts for a preseason top-5 team this century. Izzo seems to be guessing at how to fix it, with none of the lineups being the solution. Historically, a game against Nebraska would be a great way for MSU to start to right the ship.
Tonight, Izzo went with the starting lineup that began the season - Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Hall, and Sissoko. And MSU got on the scoreboard first with a Walker basket. Sissoko did pick up an early foul when he got caught in the air trying to defend the low post. Hall got in on the scoring early and Hoggard got two buckets to help MSU to an 8-6 lead at the first TV timeout.
In the next segment, the three-ball starting falling for both teams. Akins hit from deep on a play that had MSU send the ball down low before kicking it back out and then swinging it around the perimeter to get the open shooter. I hoped that I would see more of that tonight. MSU led 15-12 at the next stoppage.
The Spartans and Huskers continued to focus on the deep ball next. Hall and Holloman each hit for MSU; Tominaga and Wilcher hit for Nebraska. For a few possessions, it felt like MSU was strictly looking to shoot from behind the arc. As soon as I had that thought, though, MSU scored inside when Holloman ran the court and dropped the ball into the paint for Cooper to finish with the dunk. MSU would retake the lead when Hall squirmed out of a double team down low to lay it in. It was 25-23 at the under-8.
The two teams continued the pattern of trading baskets and the lead. Hoggard’s triple secured the lead at the under-4 with the score 30-29.
In the last segment before the half, Carr hit a jumper from the elbow and Hall followed that with a shot-clock-beating jumper to get into double-digits. A couple of turnovers in the final minute prevented the Spartans from growing their lead. Nebraska got the ball with just under 30 seconds remaining, but their final possession featured a total of zero passes, and Akins suffocating defense forced a bad shot at the buzzer which had little chance of going in. MSU led at the break, 34-31.
We have grown accustomed to seeing MSU’s opponents start games on fire. In this game, we saw the opponent’s hot streak at the start of the second half. An 11-2 Huskers run led to an Izzo timeout. Hall scored coming out of the huddle, but MSU trailed 38-42 at the under-16.
Hoggard showed off his strength just bullying his way to the hole for the short shot off the glass, but Walker tossed up an airball on the next possession. Akins sank a three, but Fears blew a tire on the next possession which led to a Tominaga jumper. Carr received an alleyoop from Walker, but MSU could not chip away at the lead, and Nebraska was up 47-51 at the second commercial of the half.
Nebraska never allowed MSU to get on a run. A late triple from Walker made it 55-58 at the under-8.
During the commercial break, the officials reviewed a goaltending call against Carr from the previous segment and realized they made a wrong call, so the score was adjusted to 55-56. But Nebraska had a trip to the line waiting for them and they promptly sunk both FTs to regain the three-point lead. A minute later, Walker collected a defensive rebound and drove the whole way for the layup to bring it down to a one-point deficit. After Nebraska answered, Walker tied it up with a deeeeeeeep three. And after getting a stop, Walker did it again, this time sidestepping away from the defender to put MSU up three and forcing the home team into a timeout. The under-4 timeout had to wait until the 2:06 mark when Izzo called a timeout after a Huskers’ triple put them up 65-67.
In the final segment, Hall got MSU all-square with a pair of free throws. Tominaga earned a trip to the line on the other end and put Nebraska back up two. From there, Hall had an ugly miss from three, and Akins lost the rebound out of bounds. After breaking the full-court press, Nebraska scored down low to go up four with just under a minute. Walker missed a jumper and then MSU had to foul intentionally. After three intentional fouls where the Huskers made both free throws each time, MSU had a turnover on an inbounds pass that went cross court and off Hall’s fingertips. Izzo called off the effort and Nebraska came away with the win, 70-77.
MSU is now 4-5 overall, 0-2 in B1G play, and plays #6 Baylor next Saturday in Detroit. That feels like a must-win now too, but I do not have much confidence that they can win.
3 Things I Liked:
- Hall Scoring. Malik had his best game of the season, scoring 22 points to lead all players. He also had 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. That is the Hall we need.
- Deep ball going in. MSU was 8-17 from behind the arc with five different Spartans sinking at least one triple.
- Discipline. MSU only had 9 turnovers and only 13 total fouls for the game, three of which were intentional in the last minute of the game. Not giving away possessions and not giving the opponent easy points is soemthign MSU needs to keep doing if they are going to turn the season around.
3 Things I Disliked:
- Lack of inside game (again). This will be dislike #1 every game I guess. Sissoko had no FGAs in this game, and Cooper was 1-2. Neither of them took any free throws. Why not just try going inside five times a game?
- Fears a nonfactor. The freshman did not contribute in this one. He had no points and only two assists. No blocks or big defensive plays on the night. He also had three turnovers, more than anyone else on the team.
- Not doing anything better than Nebraska. In a tight game, MSU lost because there was not a single aspect where MSU was superior to Nebraska. The Spartans did not shoot better, did not earn more trips to the line, did not get more rebounds or blocks or steals. This was a game that could have gone either way, but in the end, Nebraska was just a little better on this night.
I’ll add one more thing I disliked. Last game I said I disliked being wrong about a prediction. This time I dislike being right about a prediction. I did predict Nebraska would beat us this year. Hey Donaldo, pay up!