Well, we knew eventually the MSU Spartans would have to return to competition after this week’s tragedy. Judging by a lot of the comments in the pregame threads, this was not the game that the majority of MSU Nation wanted as that first game back. We had been hearing for the past couple of days that there was going to be some pregame recognition of what happened on MSU’s campus Monday night, but that seemed to be largely glossed over by the network, showing bits and pieces of it after the fact rather than having any live coverage. So that felt shitty. By the time they started live coverage inside the arena, the atmosphere, at least as viewed on TV, was that of a normal game.
Game Flow Highlights:
Mady Sissoko won the opening tip, AJ Hoggard brought it up, and kicked it to a cutting Joey Hauser, who rose up and hit a jumper from the stripe. um’s freshman PG Dug McDaniel scored the next 7 points, before Tyson Walker ended the run with a layup. Immediately after that shot, a whistle was blown, and the next thing those of us watching at home knew, the home team was shooting technical FTs. It was said that it was on Hoggard, but it was never shown what happened; that’s strike 2, FOX. After the FTs were made, Hauser knocked down a triple, and then, after an offensive foul on Dickinson, Jaxon Kohler tied it up with a lay-in. The two teams would exchange a few baskets, and after an extra-long first stretch to get to the under-16, MSU had a 15-14 lead. Any worries about MSU not being emotionally ready for this game were already alleviated.
On MSU’s first possession after the commercial, Sissoko grabbed an offensive rebound, then went back up and missed a dunk; it looked like the ball just slipped out of his hands as he got up to rim height. A minute later, Malik Hall would show his teammate how a dunk is supposed to go. MSU trailed 17-18 at the 2nd TV timeout.
As the first half approached its midway point, Jaden Akins had the ball just below the top of the key. Moving to his right, he whipped a bounce pass around two defenders to Carson Cooper, who had slipped behind everyone, for a basket down low. Cooper was fouled on the play but missed the FT. Back on defense, Akins had a beautiful steal, cutting in front of a cross-court pass, to kickstart a break that promptly led to a 2nd Hauser triple. um would chip away at the six-point deficit they suddenly found themselves, and at this point it became obvious that the answer to the question of which wolverine would score way more than his average was going to be Dug McDaniel, who was already up to 11. MSU led 26-23 at the under-8.
When the game resumed, MSU’s defense ratcheted up the intensity; I had predicted that we would see a floor-slapping, but alas, I was proven wrong. We saw Hall and Walker each show their ball handling skills to score on consecutive possessions, all while um was committing turnovers. The score was 33-25 going into the last segment of the first half.
Kobe Bufkin hit a 3 for um when play resumed. Then, MSU went a little cold, committing fouls and turnovers, including Mady dropping an inbounds pass along the sideline right out of bounds. MSU would have the last possession, but Malik Hall missed a corner 3 at the buzzer. Spartans had a 36-33 halftime lead. Hall led the way with 12 points, while Hauser and Walker had 10 and 8, respectively. On the other end, MSU had kept Hunter Villainson to only 5 points. And MSU was winning the turnover battle, 4-8.
Ten seconds into the second half, Hauser was fouled shooting a 3, and would make 3 FTs. But um responded with a triple of their own, this from Kobe Bufkin. The teams would trade baskets for a few minutes, and MSU still had a 3-point lead at the first commercial break in the second half, 44-41.
After Kohler got another layup, um had 1 possession where they recorded 6 offensive rebounds, eventually leading to an &1 for Jett Howard. Hoggard gave up a turnover, and then Jett would tie the game on a jumper, but he would injure his ankle when he landed on Hauser’s foot, forcing him to be helped off the court. Hall got a layup, and Jaden Akins put down a massive dunk. But um would respond with 2 consecutive layups sandwiched around a lazy Hauser layup attempt that easily got rejected. The game was notched at 50 at the 12-minute mark.
It was not long after the game resumed that Mady dunked the ball on a great feed from Akins to get his first points. Shortly after, Mady drew a foul when he got clobbered down low, and I personally thought it was a small miracle that he did not injure himself. His left toe got planted in the ground and his leg bent at the knee more than you think it would as he was taken to the ground. He celebrated his knee’s resilience by sinking 2 FT. From here, both teams began lighting up, and after another Hauser 3 and um’s Joey Baker responding with one of his own, MSU led 63-60.
With under 8 minutes remaining, MSU definitely picked an awful time to have their worst stretch of the game. um took the lead on a pair of Hunter FTs. Hauser then gave up a turnover, but fortunately um could not take advantage. Izzo called a timeout, but Akins would miss a triple-try after the huddle, and then Mady got called for his 4th foul. Hauser and Hunter traded layups, and Hall had his shot blocked on a drive, only for the ball to go out of bounds. MSU would get the ball with seven seconds on the shot-clock after the under-4 timeout, trailing 67-69.
A foul before the ball was inbounded put Hauser on the line where he would hit 2 freebies to tie the game. Back the other way, Mady would foul out giving up an &1 to Tarris Reed. Tyson Walker would hit a monster three-point shot that rainbowed in to tie the score at 72 with about 2:30 to go. From here, Bufkin and Dickinson would hit back-to-back 3s, but it was the play in between them that may have been the game’s most important. Down 3, Hauser got the ball down along the baseline. He tried banging his way down to the hoop only to have his short shot blocked by a helping Reed. The ball came back and landed just past Hauser. Rather than grab the ball and resume play, Hauser tried to let the ball go out of bounds only to have Reed collect it, leading to the play with Hunter’s dagger three. After a miss by Walker, MSU started fouling on purpose. In the last 2 ½ minutes, um scored the last 12 points. MSU lost 72-84.
Obviously, this loss hurts. Not only is it a loss to our rival and to a team very close to us in the B1G standings, but the sting of this loss feels magnified after everything the school had to endure this week. I know how much the players wanted to win this game for all the current MSU students. And the way we lost, having led for most of the game only to collapse late, like we have seen a few times this year, is just maddening. The lapses of focus and effort in crucial situations showed itself again, and it is something that should not be happening by a team with this much experience.
3 Things I Liked:
1. Let’s be honest, the worry coming into this game was that the team would not be checked-in mentally. On the contrary, they came out playing really well, hitting shots, playing disciplined defense, and generally outhustling the opponent. And this effort was present for most of the game. So a tip of the cap to the whole gang for being good enough to overcome all the metaphorical noise and playing a mostly great game.
2. Jaden Akins all-around game. There was nothing monstrous about Jaden’s stats tonight - 7 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, and 1 steal. But when he did do something that would end up in the box score, it often seemed like a highlight-reel play. His assist to Cooper was the nicest pass of the whole game, in my opinion, the aforementioned bounce-pass that got around a pair of defenders. His steal just after that was a great display of his athleticism, as he raced out and launched into the air to steal a pass. And he had a couple of rebounds where he was going up against someone significantly bigger but still came down with the ball using his explosion and positioning. I don’t think it is a stretch to call Jaden the most improved player on the roster compared to a season ago.
3. Everyone scored. If you played, you got at least 2 points. Being able to get contributions from Holloman, Kohler, and Cooper. If MSU could start getting a dozen points from its 3 freshmen, that would go a long way to allowing a little more rest to the starters so they can be fresher at the end of games. Even though he only played 5 minutes, Holloman seemed to be playing confidently. His one score was a strong move where he used the dribble to get some separation before rising for a jumper along the baseline. And he looked to be trying to push the pace when he was playing PG, hustling to get the ball up court. Kohler and Cooper both seem to be showing a great sense of how to move without the ball, getting to where the defense is not present and getting to spots where their ball handler can feed it to them for easy baskets. Each of them has shown vast improvements in their offensive games since the beginning of the season. And, as an added bonus, they are becoming more reliable on defense.
3 Things I Did Not Like:
1. Going small against an opponent playing with 2 centers. There were at least a couple instances, including late in the game after Mady fouled out, where MSU was rolling with the small-ball lineup (Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Hall, and Hauser) while um had Dickinson and Reed out on the floor. This matchup made rebounding a struggle and left us struggling to defend their front court. I’d like to see Izzo give more trust to Kohler and Cooper, especially in late game scenarios when Mady is not available.
2. Mady. It’s getting beyond bad. Ball just slipping out of his hands on a dunk attempt. Dropping an inbounds pass right out of bounds. Not understanding how not to foul or how to understand what the referees are calling. Mady fouling out felt like an inevitability for most of the second half. His defense and his help defense are the only things keeping him on the floor, so I hope he is preventing more opposition scoring than he is our scoring.
3. Joey. We saw three plays tonight that were typical lackadaisical Joey errors. The first was him going up for a layup, thinking he was going to be uncontested, so he had no urgency as he walked the last three steps toward the basket. Anyone watching at home knew he was getting that weak effort rejected. The second was towards the end of the game after he was blocked again. Here he tried to watch the ball go out of bounds right in front of him when he could have easily grabbed it. Instead, um’s Reed just ran around him, grabbed the ball, and pushed it down court where um would hit the dagger. The last one happened after the game was decided but was still embarrassing as we have seen it too often when Joey stepped on the sideline with the ball in his hands. No one makes more mistakes at such crucial moments as Joey.
MSU will host Indiana on Tuesday night, their last ranked opponent of the regular season.