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Michigan State Dominates Stony Brook: Post Game Grades for The Spartans

The game was a blowout that showed important progress. Particularly some key players had games that could be turning points for the season.

NCAA Basketball: Stony Brook at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State simply rolled over Stony Brook. The 99-55 score looked closer than it was. Seriously. This was a confidence booster for key players. Jaden Akins scored a career-high 22 points, including four three-pointers. Jeremy Fears had ten assists. AJ Hoggard achieved a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists. In extended minutes, Xavier Booker scored 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds.

The grades for the team were obviously high for this game.

Details of the Curve for this Game: Stony Brook is simply not good. They are arguably the worst team MSU will play this year. Despite a tall and decent front court, and some shooters, this was a game where the Spartans were expected to roll to victory. So, the grades are looking for more than just a big numerical win.

Offense:

The Spartans’ offense started with one clear mission: get Jaden Akins involved. He has been missing in action much of this year. The early returns were not great: three straight empty possessions featuring a missed shot, a turnover, and another missed shot by Akins. Akins did get into the scoring with a really nice transition alley-oop, which is positive. The concern, though, is Akins’ ability to actually create offense. That was supposed to be his next level this year, and it simply has not appeared.

Despite the all-Akins plan not working out, MSU switched to what has been working: driving the ball and transition. This approach opened the floor for some wide-open threes.

As the lead settled out at about 20 points midway through the first half, MSU lost a bit of focus and started experimenting. Jeremy Fears spent a short stretch really trying to force his own offense. It was within the Spartan system but still a notable departure. It didn’t work out, but MSU needs him to find opportunities to get comfortable with that. Right now, he is a guy who can give you four assists in his first four minutes (he did that in this game). He can, and will, be more.

The offense got sloppy and the shooting substantially less crisp late in the first half, even as the lead neared 30 points. The game quickly felt like a scrimmage run between the visiting pro team and the high school JV. It’s hard to keep your focus when the opposition can’t hit anything. Still, the offense stopped any semblance of sets, and just let random shots fly over a demoralized opponent.

Nothing typified the atmosphere of ‘let it fly’ more than Xavier Booker. The slow-developing freshman got a lot of run in the first half, spending most of it wandering around and launching threes. The lack of need for a coherent offense was almost a disservice to Booker. He needs more time playing an actual role. This game looked like AAU high school where he could just launch what he wanted. It was disappointing to not see more post play from Booker in the first half.

The first half lead was the largest since 2004 for the Spartans. On the curve, the grade can complain about the lack of formalized execution, but the scoreboard is what really matters - and leading 48-12, MSU aced that test in the first half.

The Spartan offense in the second half looked unfocused and lackadaisical. Even after a timeout, the players looked happy to dribble around and launch. The one beneficiary of this was Jaden Akins. Coming off a first half where he stuffed the stat sheet mostly in transition, he had two stand-up three-pointers off simple ball rotation in the first few minutes. That was the type of confidence Izzo was clearly hoping to build for Akins in this game. The outcome of the focus on Akins’ offense was a career-high in points.

Even with the foot off the gas, MSU just kept pouring it on. Stony Brook had no answer for anyone. The three-pointers were falling. The drives were there when they wanted, and the cuts for alley-oops were devastating. Even the rare post-up move - a few by each big man, including Xavier Booker, worked in the end.

Minus a less than stellar 65% free throw shooting percentage, this was about as complete an offensive performance as you can have.

Offensive Grade: A+

Defense:

Stony Brook scored 2 points in the first four minutes of the game. On paper, that was great. Considering the talent disparity, the concern was that Stony Brook was missing shots they had the space to take. Quickly, Tyson Walker led a charge to stop that and the turnovers started turning into transition offense.

The entrance of the “second line” of Holloman, Fears, and Cooper led to the defense staying very tight.

As the lead went out to twenty points, the defense was still strong individually. MSU’s guards have found their calling in the last few games forcing steals. They continued that in this game, in what could be a fascinating calling card for the team this year.

The defense was one minute and twenty seconds from keeping Stony Brook to single-digit scoring in the first half. The Spartans were helped by Stony Brook being absolutely cold shooting. Stony Brook was also harassed for much of the first half. When MSU started slipping in defensive intensity, Stony Brook had no confidence and started launching from crazy deep.

Holding a team to 12 points for a half is impressive. It may not be as impressive as holding Baylor to 17 in a half, but it’s hard numerically to do much better at the college level.

The second half saw Stony Brook regain some shooting touch. The Seawolves scored 9 points in the first three and a half minutes of the half - it took them about 19 minutes to score that much in the first half.

Where there was a sign for concern was when Stony Brook started going inside. The front court for Stony Brook has some size. The team as a whole though should be relatively easy for MSU to handle in the paint. Instead, there was a run where Coen Carr was caught fouling on defense and the rest of MSU’s front court got beat. The game was not in doubt in any way, but the defensive play still needed improvement in this area.

Xavier Booker actually helped bring in some rim protection. His length played an immediate role in changing Stony Brook’s success near the rim. He still looks mostly lost on defense, but his help side blocks can impact plays.

The final score is what eventually hurts this defensive grade. The 12 points allowed in the first half should have its own A. The second half that allowed Stony Brook to score 43 points was not as good. From a sportsmanship perspective, there may have been some intentional lowering of the defensive intensity. That note aside, the final result was still a bit less impressive than it might have been.

Defensive Grade: A-

Transition:

Transition offense played a crucial role early on. MSU initially struggled with their formal offense, particularly through Jaden Akins and Malik Hall. However, once they started capitalizing on steals and pushing the pace, the scoring opened up significantly. This shift sparked the run that opened a substantial lead less than 8 minutes into the game.

An important moment came when Stony Brook briefly narrowed MSU’s lead from 18 to 13 points. Tyson Walker’s response, a skillful transition layup splitting two defenders, was a pivotal moment for the fifth-year senior, reasserting control during a lapse in focus.

Another highlight, around eight and a half minutes left in the first half, featured AJ Hoggard leading a fast break. He lobbed a pass to Jaden Akins for an impressive slam dunk, showcasing MSU’s intimidating transition capabilities.

In the second half, the Spartans appeared to slow down. With such a significant lead, it was unclear if this change was player-driven or guided by coaching strategy.

In the end, MSU scored 27 fast break points while allowing 12, which slightly detracts from a perfect score.

Transition Grade: A-

Coaching:

This game functioned more like an extended practice session. Strategic choices and in-game adjustments were less critical. Instead, Coach Izzo leveraged the opportunity to build confidence in key players and provide floor time for others.

Emphasizing Jaden Akins early, despite initial struggles, demonstrated Izzo’s faith in the wing player. Akins responded positively, especially in transition, achieving double-digit points in the first half.

Izzo’s decision to call an early timeout in the second half, following a quick five points by Stony Brook, illustrated his commitment to maintaining standards, even against a lower-tier opponent.

Stony Brook’s attempt at a zone defense, though less effective than Oakland’s in the previous game, allowed MSU guards to display improved confidence and strategy in breaking it down. Fears, in particular, showed excellent instincts for penetrating the zone and facilitating plays.

Despite some moments of sloppiness, Izzo kept the team focused, as evidenced by only 11 turnovers and an impressive 33 assists on 38 made field goals.

While Izzo’s in-game involvement was minimal, his broader efforts in transforming the team fully merit this grade.

Coaching Grade: A

Overall:

In a game where MSU had more to lose than gain in terms of grades, they surpassed expectations. Holding an opponent to 12 first-half points and expanding the lead to 45, while effectively countering a zone defense, contributes significantly to the overall assessment.

MSU’s performance against a less challenging opponent continued to reflect the team’s transformation over the past three games compared to the season’s first nine. Statistically, there wasn’t much more MSU could have achieved in this matchup.

Overall Grade: A

How do you grade Michigan State for this game?