The Spartans hosted Indiana State in a replay of the 1979 championship, and the game was almost as entertaining. The Spartans eventually pulled away for an 87-75 win, but the game was closer than the score suggests.
The Spartans earned this win with grit and determination. Not everything worked for them, yet they found a way to win in a complete team effort. Let’s break down the grades.
Details of the Curve for this Game: This was meant to be a tune-up game, scheduled against a team predicted to finish mid-pack in their mid-to-low-major conference. The historical hook as a replay of the 1979 national championship game was fun. The purpose was to get the team back in rhythm after the holiday break and ready for Big Ten play. Indiana State, however, had other plans this year. Their 11-1 record appears legitimate. They may not have faced much high-level competition, but this team looks like a potential nightmare come tournament time. MSU was still expected to win this game comfortably, but the difficulty level was higher than anyone anticipated coming into the season.
Starting the game with an AJ Hoggard three-pointer felt like a bonus, especially since it came off a hard-fought offensive rebound by Malik Hall. The early concern, however, was that MSU’s offense showed none of the drive or motion it had found in its three-game win streak.
Despite a semi-transition push by Malik Hall for a nice layup, the Spartans found almost no success early on penetrating inside the three-point line. It wasn’t until Tre Holloman entered after the 16-minute timeout that the offense seemed to flow. It wasn’t all due to Holloman, but that timeout sparked something in the Spartans.
Tyson Walker also seemed to take a more active role in orchestrating the offense. When AJ Hoggard sat out from the 16-minute to the 12-minute mark, Holloman was the designated point guard. Despite this, Walker found multiple opportunities to handle the ball, delivering a great alley-oop to Coen Carr and another fantastic pass to Carson Cooper. Unfortunately, Cooper couldn’t capitalize on the pass, but Walker’s skills as a point guard were evident. They will need that, especially with Jeremy Fears no longer an option.
The offensive effort in the first half was impressive. Scoring 44 points with contributions up and down the roster, MSU took a ten-point lead into the break.
The second-half offense felt more challenging. The Sycamores created turnovers and started effectively rebounding defensively, limiting MSU’s shots. The Spartans often had to create offense in isolation.
Malik Hall, often found in the corner, lacked the confidence to shoot threes or drive decisively. Although Hall had a good game in some respects, his presence on offense often led to fizzled possessions.
The Spartans regained the lead with a 10-2 run, finding their rhythm again and scoring early in the shot clock, even capped off by a corner three from Malik Hall.
The offense continued to grind. Even when Avila returned to the court, MSU’s offensive rebounds provided crucial second-chance points. Knowing Avila had four fouls, the backcourt consistently attacked him.
When the Sycamores switched to a 2-3 zone, it opened up the floor, and MSU started to excel.
The Spartans pulled away late in the game, with free throw shooting giving them an edge.
Overall, the offense performed well, scoring 87 points. However, only shooting 35% from three was a letdown. It required the team to find points in other ways, with more individual effort and less ball movement than ideal. The assist rate was lower than normal for the Spartans, with 17 assists on 29 made baskets.
Still, having four players in double digits and every player who touched the floor scoring at least once is significant. This balance is becoming a hallmark of their offense, moving away from reliance solely on Tyson Walker, which is crucial as Big Ten play resumes.
Offensive Grade: A
The early defense was lackluster. Indiana State, a talented offensive team, initially found success against the Spartans, getting open shots and making them. The defense improved with Tre Holloman’s entry, as he managed a steal and forced another turnover against Indiana State’s big man.
The defensive game plan focused on containing Avila and doubling him when possible. While mostly effective, it still allowed Indiana State’s shooters to find openings. The Sycamores stayed close, shooting 50% from three.
Michigan State started to create separation by forcing turnovers.
The Spartans struggled with the number of shooters Indiana State fielded. When Avila found space and drew either Cooper or Sissoko to the three-point line, it opened up opportunities for the Sycamores. MSU clearly has difficulty with a big man who can shoot and pass effectively.
Once Avila was benched with two fouls, Indiana State went small, which should have favored MSU. However, with Hall also in foul trouble, MSU had to keep Cooper on the floor, leading to mixed results. Cooper was aggressive in rebounding, but the team often seemed a step behind Indiana State’s smaller lineup.
The defense at the start of the second half was out of sync. Hall and Walker each picked up their third foul, leading to sloppy play. After a first half with limited turnovers, the Sycamores managed to grab rebounds and force turnovers, tying the game after the 16-minute timeout.
MSU chased and got confused by the Sycamores’ screening. Even when they played good defense, Indiana State’s players often made big shots.
Once the Sycamores cooled off, the defense improved. High-quality defensive rebounding and a stretch where Indiana State went without a field goal for over three minutes allowed MSU to rebuild their lead. This drought extended to over six minutes as MSU went up by 9 points. Indiana State then appeared to shoot out of desperation rather than confidence.
The game eventually became about free throws as MSU pulled away.
Allowing an opponent to shoot 40% from three isn’t usually indicative of strong defense. However, reducing Indiana State’s shooting from over 50% from three to 40% was an improvement. Indiana State is clearly a quality offensive team, and it’s uncertain how they would have performed without the fouls. MSU had some defensive breakdowns and struggled with complex screening actions. The defense was sufficient to win the game, but improvements could be made.
Defensive Grade: B
Malik Hall attempted to make an impact in transition early on. The Spartans were struggling to penetrate in the half-court, and his answer was to push the ball aggressively. In one notable play, he spun through a defender, drew the foul, and scored, demonstrating the kind of crafty, aggressive offense that could be a huge asset for a Spartan team in need of more attitude.
Hall’s one-man transition game continued with a superb lead pass to Coen Carr for the freshman’s third alley-oop dunk of the game. On the following sequence, Hall disrupted a pass, leading to a 4-on-1 fast break. The play was somewhat messy, but it showcased Hall securing a rebound and quickly passing to an open Walker for a three-pointer.
In the second half, the Spartans’ transition game was more limited. The Sycamores started hitting their shots, rebounding better, and taking care of the ball, which hampered MSU’s ability to push the pace.
Late in the game, the Spartans created a few more transition opportunities, mostly when the outcome was already apparent. They used transition effectively in the first half and later in the second half to build their lead, but it was noticeably absent for a significant portion of the game.
Transition Grade: B+
The Spartans appeared a bit stagnant at the start, a common challenge after a holiday break. The tempo shifted after the 16-minute timeout, partly due to Tre Holloman’s insertion but also because of a clear message from the bench.
Izzo’s early strategy was evident: focus on Indiana State’s big man. The defense was instructed to double down on him and switch without hesitation, even if it resulted in a mismatch. These tactics were effective, disrupting Indiana State’s flow and limiting their open looks.
Izzo smartly utilized post plays to draw fouls on Avila, Indiana State’s key player. MSU, which typically does not rely on traditional post moves, adapted their strategy to exploit this opportunity, resulting in Avila being benched with two fouls.
When the game intensified in the second half, Izzo maintained his standard lineup, even as Indiana State adjusted. MSU’s decision to stick with a true center, rather than matching the Sycamores’ smaller lineup, was questionable, as Cooper struggled against the more dynamic Indiana State athletes.
However, maintaining a larger lineup allowed MSU to dominate rebounding. The team capitalized on this advantage, especially with Mady Sissoko’s effective presence on the court.
Izzo’s consistent approach, effective timeout strategies, and adept management of the rotation and substitutions, particularly in the absence of Jeremy Fears, were commendable. His utilization of Tre Holloman in various roles was a testament to the team’s depth and flexibility.
Coaching Grade: A
This victory was significant. Indiana State may have a mid-major tag, but they played like a top-tier program. They shot exceptionally well, ran perplexing offenses, and challenged the Spartans on all fronts. MSU responded with determination and grit.
The Spartans found balanced scoring among their leaders. Defensively, they remained tenacious, creating advantages even while facing hot shooting periods. The coaching staff’s acumen in exploiting strengths and the players’ ability to leverage them was key.
MSU excelled in rebounding, both offensively and defensively, generating crucial second-chance points. They capitalized on turnovers, maintained possession effectively, and performed well at the free-throw line.
This win, showcasing a complete team effort, adds to the series of impressive performances by MSU. It’s a testament to the team’s growth and ability to compete at the highest level.
Overall Grade: A