Michigan State Men’s Basketball traveled to Columbus, Ohio and took apart a struggling Ohio State squad. The game started out ugly. The two teams combined for more than 12 turnovers in the first half, at one point trading 3 minute stretches of 4 turnovers straight. For the first 12 minutes of the game, the scoring was on track for a 40-20 final. Luckily for those watching, both teams found their offensive touch (to some degree) and the game ended in a 62-41 Spartan victory.
A win is a win, and Michigan State will take this as they have their first 2-game win streak in a month.
Here are my shoot from the hip takes on the game. Like an end of shot clock heave, ready them and let me know what your deep shot after the game is in the comments.
POINT 1: Tyson Walker Needs to Touch the Ball on Every Offensive Set
Senior forward Joey Hauser will feature in most of the headlines about this game. Scoring 22 points in a game that no other player - on either team - scored more than 10-points, means you are the star of the game. The next player that should be focused on coming out of this game is Tyson Walker.
Walker scored 10 points, had three assists (two turnovers), and three rebounds. Defensively he also added two steals. While these are not overwhelming stats, there is an impact he has on the game that goes beyond his own stats.
This game was stuck at 9 to 6 till well after the ten minute mark in the first half. This ugly, sloppy, slog of a game featured an Ohio State team that looked determined to lose, and an MSU team that looked like they couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. That was until AJ Hoggard picked up his second foul and went to the bench.
For the closing 9 minutes of the first half, Tyson Walker played iron man duty as the rest of the lineup rotated in and out. Walker only scored 3-points during thosenine minutes, but Michigan State closed the half on an 18-5 run.
In the second half, Walker took an early, and well deserved rest. Largely with Walker on the bench, Ohio State put together their most coherent 6 minutes of basketball in weeks and closed the gap to 7-points down.
Returning to action, Walker started touching the ball on every possession, and Michigan State’s offense got rolling. At one point Walker scored 5 points on back to back big shots. Beyond his scoring, his presence on offense drew Ohio State defenders as his dribble probing of their offense moved defenders out of position and opened up teammates. Even as his backcourt running mate, AJ Hoggard had more assists in the game, Walker’s presence opened up wide open shots for Hauser and created driving lanes exploited by Jaden Akins (more on him in a moment).
Tyson Walker has been essential to this team from the start of the season. Now he needs to be essential on every single offensive possession. This team’s offense should be designed to get Walker involved on the ball, even if he is not formally playing the point guard spot. His impact with the ball in his hands could make the difference in a postseason run.
POINT 2: Jaden Akins’ Athleticism is Coming Together to Truly Separate Him From Defenders
All Summer long press reports about Michigan State Men’s Basketball were filled with ooh’s and ahh’s about how Akins had elevated his game. This progress was short circuited by his foot injury two months before the start of the season. This game showed that Akins may be returning to that Summertime form.
On an uncharacteristically bad 3-point shooting night (0-6), Akins found ways to change the game through pure athleticism. Recording 9 rebounds in 25 minutes, Akins routinely positioned himself so he could fly in and snag a contested rebound on both ends of the court. Some of these were smart basketball, and more than a few were simply he was a better athlete than anyone else going up for that ball.
On offense, Akins found another gear driving the basket, particularly in the second half. His driving opened up three pointers across the floor - most exploited by Joey Hauser.
This is the Akins that can tilt a game simply through his superior athletic abilities. If he can regain his shooting touch from three (which he presumably will as he is 38.7% on the season), Akins is a threat that changes the nature of the Spartans Squad for the better.
POINT 3: Michigan State is Terrified to Play Post Offense
It’s absolutely no secret that MSU struggles to play post offense. Mady Sissoko is significantly limited on offense, scoring almost exclusively on lobs (early in the season) and all too infrequently on put backs. The larger problem is Sissoko’s limitations are now limiting the offensive mindset of MSU.
Ohio State is one of the few Big Ten teams without an absolute force at the 5. Their go-to option Zed Key has had more than a few good games, but Ohio State has been bad enough across the board that he doesn’t really stick out on the league wide scouting report.
In this game, Key played a limited and largely ineffectual 20-minutes. Those minutes were limited by foul trouble and evident shoulder pain. Ohio State is one of the few teams the Spartans should be able to create post offense, particularly with Key on the bench.
Yet in this game, largely with Key on the bench, Spartan players consistently passed up feeding the ball down low, even when Sissoko or Kohler were in prime position.
Kohler did score a memorable 6 points, with two of those baskets looking like coherent post offense. That could have been an opportunity to exploit the post matchup even more. Instead Michigan State never went back to it.
Yes, Izzo brought in Cooper for some valuable minutes to keep him game ready - he’d really fallen out of the recent rotation. So up more than 10 points most of the final 25 minutes of the game, MSU played Cooper six minutes in the second half. Cooper is not exactly polished offensively, but he has shown some flashes, and has better hands than Mady Sissoko.
Still the Spartans passed up opportunity after opportunity to feed the ball down low. Michigan State needs to make sure they are not passing up positive opportunities down low as they close out the season. It’s not too late to discover some rhythm down there - something they will want at some point in the postseason.
And 1 (POINT 4 - because the refs helped me out): Some Clarity on the Rotation - Pierre Brooks vs Tre Holloman
Before this game I’d written up an analysis of the impact Tre Holloman is having on the Spartans. Coach Tom Izzo showed he is having similar concerns, giving Holloman only 2 minutes of game time against Ohio State. This was despite AJ Hoggard being limited for the final 9 minutes of the first half with two fouls - a situation Holloman should be coming in for at least a few more minutes to give some relief for Tyson Walker.
Holloman stayed on the bench. And barring a post game discovery of a minor injury, this seems to spell doom for Holloman playing significant minutes in the final stretch of the season.
Conversely, everyone’s favorite target for scorn, Pierre Brooks, played a decent 13-minutes. Brooks’ stat sheet is pretty bare, only recording two rebounds in that increased playing time. That said, the way you know Brooks is having a decent game is you don’t notice him.
In previous games Brooks has played this many minutes, there would be multiple times you saw him blow a defensive assignment. At least against a mediocre Ohio State Brooks looked functional on defense.
Down the stretch, Izzo may have to choose between Holloman and Brooks each game. Despite the difference in their positions, these two players exist on this roster at this point to soak up minutes for the starters to rest. If Brooks can be functional on defense, it looks like he may be the more consistent presence in the lineup moving forward.
READ MORE: The Spartans Are Struggling, It’s Time To Talk About Tre Holloman