Michigan State played their last non-conference game on the next to last day of 2023 as they hosted the Indiana State Sycamores of the Missouri Valley Conference and their 11-1 record. A lot of the talk coming into this game was about the Sycamores being a Quad 1 opponent that the Spartans needed to take seriously, and that turned out to be the case.
Of course, a matchup of these two schools cannot take place without a reminder that it is a rematch of the 1979 NCAA Championship game which featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and gave MSU its first national championship. The commentators managed to bring up that game about 79 times today. In one of those mentions, they reminded us that that game is, amazingly, still the highest viewed game in college hoops history. You would think that the population growth alone over the last 45 years would have led to at least one recent championship game being more watched. Guess not.
The game got off to a well enough start. MSU got the ball first and opened the scoring with an AJ Hoggard triple after a Malik Hall offensive rebound. Work on the offensive glass was the early theme for MSU as they collected one on their first two possessions, three of their first five, and had six by the time the game reached the under-12 timeout. The second chance points and the points off turnovers helped the Spartans early, but the Sycamores outside shooting was getting going early and was helping them stay in the game.
In fact, 11 of Indiana State’s first 13 attempts were from beyond the arc; all their possessions seemingly ended with a triple try or a turnover. Before the under-8 timeout, we saw a few noteworthy plays from the home team. Coen Carr threw down a pair of alley-oops, one from Walker and one from Hall. Malik Hall somehow got an offensive rebound while sitting on his butt near the free throw line and then he kicked it out to Tyson for three. MSU had a nine-point advantage, 28-19, at the third commercial.
The pace picked up a little bit in the next segment of play. The most impressive play during the back-and-forth was Indiana State’s Julian Larry intercepting an alley-oop pass from Tre Holloman to Hoggard in midair. The Sycamores were shooting 7-15 from deep by the under-4 break to keep themselves within six, 37-31.
In the final portion of the first half, Indiana State was in some foul trouble which forced them to play small. This lineup gave MSU’s guards an easy time of attacking the basket themselves, but at the same time the Sycamores had a faster set of players in the game which helped them start getting to more loose balls and racing down long rebounds on their offensive glass. A late triple from Walker put MSU up 10. A steal on the last possession preserved that margin, and Holloman could not hit the buzzer beater. The Spartans went to the locker room up 44-34.
Walker had ten in the first half, just edging out Hoggard and Akins, who each had 9. Indiana States’s Isaiah Swope led all players with 14 in thanks to his four triples. As a team, the Sycamores were 8 of 18 from long range.
In the opening half-minute of the 2nd half, Hall and Walker both collected their third personal fouls. After Hoggard showed off with a beautiful spin move for an &1, which he converted, the visitors started making a comeback. A pair of triples followed by a steal for an easy layup brought the game to within three, where it remained until the under-16 whistle, with MSU up 49-46.
Right after the commercial, Swope tied the game with another triple. The two teams then traded scoring possessions for a while. MSU would score and Indiana State would answer. Another triple from Swope put the Sycamores up by 1. On the ensuing Spartan possession, Walker hit a three at the same time that Hall was fouled while screening a defender, but a review of the play determined that the foul occurred before Walker began his shooting motion. Walker just worked to draw another foul and went to the line to reclaim the lead. A little more tit-for-tat finished with a Swope finger roll which put ISU up 57-59 at the under-12.
Tyson picked up another trip to the line and tied the game with two more free throws. Swope then scored five straight for the visiting team, first a triple with Holloman’s hand in his face and then a floater in the lane. Then MSU stormed back behind a Jaden Akins tip-in, a Holloman runner, and another Hoggard spinning &1. After giving up a rare inside basket, MSU answered with a triple from Hall to take a 69-66 lead at the under-8.
The Spartans then started getting some separation. Hall scored inside, and after Indiana State missed a pair from the stripe, Walker drew yet another foul and put MSU up 5. The deep ball that had been so kind to ISU suddenly turned cold and cost them their chance to keep within striking distance. Tyson scored his 20th points of the night on a finger roll to extend the lead to seven. Hall would score consecutive baskets for his team, and MSU went into the final break up 79-70.
The final minutes felt like they were spent entirely at the free throw line. Incredulously, after only having missed two free throws all season up to this point, Mady Sissoko split two trips to the line down the stretch. I had been thinking to myself that I had never seen a big man before Mady where I was so comfortable watching him shoot free throws while being so uncomfortable watching him shoot anything else. Jaden Akins dunk in the final minute was the exclamation point on the game and Michigan State walked off with the 87-75 win.
3 Things I Liked:
- Making up Fears’ minutes. I do hate to start with this, but it was a question that we all had coming into this game. How would the rotation change with the absence of the backup point guard. Needless to say, everyone’s minutes went up. Hoggard and Walker both played over thirty minutes, and Holloman played twenty. Even Akins played above his average, clocking in at 35 minutes. I think we should get used to this sort of minute allotment. But they all played well and played like the leaders of the team that they are.
- Rebounding. MSU was a beast early on getting themselves second chance opportunities. For the game, they pulled down 15 offensive rebounds and 41 total boards. The Sycamores only had 27. Sissoko led the way with a dozen, but every Spartan had at least two rebounds. We have been spoiled over the years for our domination of other teams on the glass and we are starting to see this team starting to resemble previous Izzo-coached teams in that department.
- Defense. Sure, MSU let their opponent take 35 three-point shots, and the Sycamores made 14 of them, good for 40%. A good amount of those were well defended, so it was not a case of Indiana State getting open all game. Beyond the shooting, though, MSU made enough other plays to facilitate the win. Spartan defenders came away with seven steals as a part of ISU’s 14 turnovers, and MSU also had six blocked shots. Those effort plays go a long way in a tightly contested game.
- Not panicking. I am doing a bonus like today to say I liked how MSU never panicked and continued playing their game, even when Indiana State roared back in the second half and took a lead as large as five. That showed maturity and poise, and that is going to be needed as we get deeper into the season and play some of the better Big Ten teams.
3 Things I Disliked:
- Giving up 35 attempts from three. Indiana State was looking like 2016 Middle Tennesse State against us, and if they would have shot any better than their already stellar 40% from deep, MSU may have lost this game. For a team like that, we need to figure a way to run them off their long-range shots more effectively, even if it means giving up more opportunities from closer.
- 19 fouls. After keeping our personal foul count low in the first half, the whistles started coming at the Spartans more in the second half. And while I will admit there were a few calls against us where I felt the defender got a clean block, there still were a number of fouls where arms moved recklessly and gave Indiana State some easy points. Hall, Hoggard, and Walker all ended up with four fouls. With a suddenly smaller backcourt rotation, MSU needs to be that more disciplined while guarding the ball.
- Sissoko. There were ghosts of Mady Past in this game. The last few contests made me think that he had turned a corner in terms of his ball control issues, but those reared their ugly head today. Mady missed a pair of alley-oop attempts, not to mention one other layup. He also had a couple passes get fed his way in the paint which he failed to collect, resulting in turnovers. He was solid on rebounding, though, as I pointed out earlier, so it was not a total disaster. Hopefully we get good Mady more consistently in the new year.
See you in 2024, Izzo & company.
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