Michigan State took to the court at Little Caesars Arena expecting a battle. Their opponent, Baylor, was undefeated and had been blowing out most of its competitors. It seems the Spartans knew something everyone else did not. For at least this one night, the Spartans were tougher and more physical than Baylor, dominating in every phase of the game.
The huge margin of victory in the 88-64 win doesn’t even begin to capture the domination the Spartans displayed.
Details of the Curve for this Game: Baylor looks like one of the top teams in the country. Despite the eventual outcome, their lineup is big, physical, and capable of scoring up and down the roster. The Spartans saw this game as another measuring stick against a top team, so the grades were going to reflect Baylor’s top status. Luckily, the Spartans didn’t need any curve tonight.
In the first section of play (up until the 16-minute timeout, which came about 2 minutes late), the Spartans played their best basketball of the season.
The first two possessions went as well as MSU could have hoped. Tyson Walker hit a nice three in rhythm. Then, Jaden Akins missed a three, but Mady Sissoko corralled the rebound and got a bucket on the putback. Any point production from the center position is a bonus for MSU this year. Despite Akins missing two early three-pointers, the pace of the start was still one of the fastest for Michigan State this year.
The team kept pushing the ball, and even Carson Cooper contributed an (admittedly awkward) alley-oop. On another play, a scrum under the basket led to a kick out to Tyson Walker, who connected to make the score 12-7. The offense looked determined, and the shots looked confident - even if they were not shooting lights out. They were also going up against a Baylor team playing suffocating defense and still leading.
The second unit came in after the first timeout, and immediately Jeremy Fears made his presence known. He fed Carson Cooper for a back-cut alley-oop on the first possession, then tried it again on the next possession and drew the foul before Cooper’s shot was counted. Not to be left behind, Tre Holloman found an aggressive gear and dribbled his way into a floater in the lane.
The offense then found another gear as a whole when Walker checked in and hit back-to-back rainbow threes. At the time Baylor took a timeout, MSU was leading 22-7. And Tyson Walker was leading Baylor 14-7. The shooting, the ball movement, the driving - even the center play - were all what was advertised over the summer but completely absent this year.
Walker’s early game explosion fed the offense across the board. Everyone had some early share of the scoring. Even Xavier Booker, in his longest stretch in a competitive game, got the opportunity for a jumper from the elbow.
The offensive explosion in the first half was phenomenal. MSU scored at all three levels. They shot 63% for the half. Everyone got involved, and the offense looked confident even with all ten players in the rotation getting serious minutes. The team tallied 45 points in the first half, a huge amount for any team, and almost unbelievable for a Spartan team that has had so much trouble shooting this year.
The start to the second half was not as good. MSU got forced into a timeout after Jaden Akins got trapped in the corner, then Malik Hall fell down getting a pass into the post and turned it over. Even an Akins steal turned into a missed layup. Then Hoggard turned the ball over, getting trapped in a corner. Then Tyson Walker turned the ball over on a bad pass to AJ Hoggard. After Hoggard drew a foul and two free throws on a drive, Walker turned the ball over again. These turnovers all turned into points for Baylor.
Baylor’s second half approach was to double team the ball at the top of the key, often abandoning their defense in the paint. A smart move against an MSU team with limited big man offense, but the Spartans started making Baylor pay by driving the lane and finding the rim unprotected. The twin attack of Hoggard and Walker on this approach looked like the back court that was promised.
The added bonus of Tre Holloman coming off the bench and draining threes is turning into a real asset. Holloman has had a few good games this season. This game was not his best (it was pretty darn good though), but he was also not asked to be the best the way he was when he stepped in for Walker and Hoggard in two games. In this game, he showed the role he can play, which is solid defense and another confident shooter to keep momentum in a game.
As the second half entered its closing 10 minutes, the Spartans started looking to seal the game inside. With the Baylor defense focused on trapping the guards on the perimeter, the Spartans went from driving the lane to feeding Malik Hall and even Sissoko and Cooper. Hall spent most of the game being a stout defender and rebounder. Late, he started putting the ball in the hoop from the paint.
The offense shot 63% for the game, and an astounding 66.7% from three. Outside of the opening few minutes of the second half (a stretch that featured five straight turnovers), they even took care of the ball against a pressure-focused defense.
The offense had distributed scoring and movement. Best of all, it had an aggressive edge with Walker and Hoggard driving incessantly. That’s the type of play this team can build on moving forward.
Offensive Grade: A
The first possession of the game saw Michigan State play the type of pressure defense they were supposed to play all year. It was an impressive display, including active movement by Mady Sissoko. It forced a shot clock turnover and set an early tone that got the crowd hyped.
The first 6 minutes of the game featured pressure defense by the Spartans. They got beat on a back-door alley-oop, but even that was hard-earned by Baylor and almost disrupted. Letting this high-scoring offense only record two field goals and 7 points in the opening 6 minutes was a win at that point.
Lost in the early scoring deluge that sent Baylor to a timeout with 11 minutes left in the first half, down 22-7, was the defense MSU was playing. The Spartans were hustling, rebounding, and constantly in the face of every Baylor ball handler.
Baylor could not shoot for the first 12 minutes of the game (21% shooting). Some of that was undoubtedly a mini-slump (MSU knows all about that), but a lot of it was the intensity of defense the Spartans played.
Up 36-11, the Spartans showed their first lapse in focus. A couple of empty - and semi-loose - offensive possessions mirrored a less ferocious set of plays on defense. It gave Baylor a 5-point spurt before the last media timeout of the half. Out of the timeout, the defense returned to its intense approach.
The Spartans held Baylor to 17 first-half points. Against a team that is averaging over 90 points a game, that is simply phenomenal.
The second half saw Baylor find their shooting touch. Despite hitting shots, the fast hands of the Spartans caused problem after problem. In the first few minutes, MSU was turning the ball over before they could cash in on the steals, but the pressure on defense kept the early bleeding relatively limited.
The Spartans’ sheer number of steals and deflections was overwhelming for Baylor. Still, the defense was at times still not airtight. The Spartan bigs got beat for some fast cuts to the basket by Baylor’s athletic big guys. Still, MSU kept the intensity high and made Baylor work for every possession and basket.
Despite a stretch with Xavier Booker on the floor, the defense remained stout for the bulk of the second half. They were not shutting Baylor down at the impossible levels of the first half, but they were keeping the lead comfortably around 25 points.
Holding Baylor’s offense to 64 points (and at least five of those were late garbage-time points) is an incredible outcome. The defense was simply spectacular.
Defensive Grade: A+
Transition play initially took a backseat, with early baskets from both teams, but the all-out running game MSU is known for was rarely seen. Baylor’s athletic defense effectively clogged lanes, limiting opportunities. However, the highlight of the first half was a stunning transition play around the 8-minute mark, where a turnover led to a spectacular lob pass to Coen Carr, resulting in a jaw-dropping dunk and pushing Baylor to their second timeout with MSU leading 28-9.
The third Baylor timeout followed an impressive full-court pass from Hoggard to Tyson Walker, extending MSU’s lead to 36-11. A notable sequence before halftime mixed success with hesitation; Jeremy Fears intercepted a pass but then seemed uncertain whether to push the pace or slow down, ultimately leading to a turnover. However, Walker’s immediate steal and pass to Coen Carr for a windmill dunk was a moment destined for the highlight reels.
In the second half, transition became a crucial element. Baylor’s intense pressure defense, including full-court presses, opened lanes for MSU’s fast breaks. A standout moment was AJ Hoggard turning a steal into a scoring opportunity, lobbing a pass to Jaden Akins for an electrifying dunk. MSU’s depth and endurance exploited numerous fast break opportunities created from 15 steals by the 4-minute mark.
Transition Grade: A
Coach Izzo seemed to have reignited the team’s focus and commitment post-Nebraska game. From the start, MSU’s offense was assertive, demonstrating confidence in their plays and shots, even amidst early misses from Akins. The team’s shooting accuracy, remaining above 60% for most of the game, was a testament to this newfound attitude.
Defensively, the Spartans were well-prepared, displaying a stark contrast to their performances against Wisconsin and Nebraska. They showed discipline and anticipation across multiple lineups, producing numerous steals. The improved utilization of the front court, particularly noticeable in Mady Sissoko and, at times, Carson Cooper, indicated a strategic shift to generate offense from guard penetration.
The freshmen, including Fears and Coen Carr, showed significant development. Although Fears had a challenging game, he still contributed positively. Carr’s defensive understanding has notably improved, with fewer positioning errors. Xavier Booker, though still developing defensively, contributed more effectively when positioned at center, avoiding his tendency to drift to the three-point line.
This game epitomized the resilience and tactical acumen Coach Izzo is renowned for, showcasing a highly focused and cohesive team performance.
Coaching Grade: A
This victory was a comprehensive team effort. Tyson Walker’s 25 points, with 14 in the first half, and AJ Hoggard’s 15 points, predominantly in the second half, led the scoring. The rest of the team, including the front court, contributed evenly, with eleven Spartans scoring.
Defensively, the team excelled, limiting Baylor to 17 first-half points. Though Baylor improved their shooting in the second half, the defensive intensity never waned, and the game was effectively decided by halftime.
The win demonstrated a significant rebound for many players and the coaching staff alike. It showcased the missing element from earlier in the season. Impressively, the team achieved this resounding victory even as key players like Jaden Akins and Jeremy Fears faced challenges. This ability to win convincingly without peak performances from every player highlights the team’s depth and collective strength.
Overall Grade: A