- Pregame Challenges and Early Tightness
Driving onto MSU’s campus on Tuesday evening, it was easy to tell that something was still amiss. After last Monday’s shooting, the MSU Union and Berkey Hall have been closed until further notice, and in the fading twilight, the buildings’ darkness was a reminder of what happened on February 13. As the crowd filed into the Breslin Center for the first men’s basketball game since that day, they found 8 empty seats in the Izzone, for the 3 killed and 5 wounded. After a moment of silence, the Spartan Brass played MSU Shadows before the Star Spangled Banner
The Spartan Brass plays MSU Shadows before the national anthem pic.twitter.com/FSKBNSRT4b— Andy Welch (@AndrewMWelch) February 22, 2023
Once the game actually tipped off, MSU looked like the basketball itself was weighed down by the heaviness in the air. Nothing was falling, as Indiana opened the game on an 8-0 run before Joey Hauser hit his first three of the game nearly 4 minutes into play. Instead of sparking a run, MSU didn’t score again for another 2 minutes, when Tre Holloman scored. Until the 6:12 mark in the first half, MSU’s offense looked like they were operating in a molasses tank, with the crowd begging for something, anything, to be that spark.
2. Spartans Get Hot to Close the First Half
At that 6:12 mark, the Breslin crowd got what they were asking for - Tyson Walker, who started ice cold from the field, made his first three of the night off of an Indiana turnover. The floodgates opened, and Walker drained 3 more from deep in the first half. With just over 6 minutes left in the half, the Hoosiers led by 9 and looked as if they could do no wrong, answering whenever MSU looked to have anything going their way. Trayce Jackson-Davis, who scored 31 points in the first meeting between these teams, led Indiana’s scoring today, but looked human from the beginning. In the last 6 minutes of the half, momentum had swung entirely in MSU’s favor going into the halftime break. After trailing by 9, the Spartans carried a 6 point lead into the locker room at halftime, after Jaxon Kohler made a pair of layups and Tyson Walker drained a three point basket with just 10 seconds to go in the half.
3. MSU Keeps it Going to open the Second Half
The question for MSU at halftime was whether their run at the end of the first half was a blip, or whether it would sustain itself into the second half. That question was answered quickly - Trayce Jackson-Davis missed what looked like an easy layup in the first possession, then Jaden Akins responded with a quick three on the other end. Joey Hauser made a three, and Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson called a timeout. It didn’t break the momentum, as AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker hit threes shortly thereafter, and it felt like the Spartans were off to the races.
Indiana would cut the lead as low as 5, but once the Spartans got rolling downhill, there was nothing that could stop them. “Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot,” as Tyson Walker said in his postgame press conference appearance. Once Walker started rolling, MSU’s offense was unstoppable. Once Mike Woodson pulled Trayce Jackson-Davis with just over 3 minutes to play, it was functionally over.
And that’ll do it. MSU with an 80-65 win over the Hoosiers pic.twitter.com/6zpezh2mkP— Andy Welch (@AndrewMWelch) February 22, 2023
4. The Fives Bring It
One of the dominant storylines following this MSU team has been the questions around the center position. Tom Izzo’s bet on Mady Sissoko taking firm hold of the position has looked questionable at best for most of the season, with Sissoko’s impressive early season performances against Gonzaga and Kentucky feeling more like blips than anything that MSU can count on. Jaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper, the two freshman, have had spike games, but neither have played with the consistency needed to solidify the position in Big Ten play. Tonight against Indiana, only Kohler and Sissoko were available, as Carson Cooper landed awkwardly in practice yesterday, and was in a walking boot today. Instead of folding in the face of one of the Big Ten’s best big men, Sissoko and Kohler played well, bringing jolts of energy to the game at key moments - Kohler made a pair of layups late in the first half to help sustain the initial run, and gave MSU their first lead of the game. In that stretch, he grabbed two vital offensive rebounds and ignited the Izzone, giving MSU an enviable home court advantage. In the second half, it was Sissoko’s turn, as he played with an incredible intensity on the defensive end
Mady Sissoko just rejected it so hard, the ball knocked over an Indiana player. pic.twitter.com/h0wN57PpOQ— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 22, 2023
He authoritatively blocking an attempted layup that went out of bounds off of Indiana, then knocking away a cross court pass. For the first time I can remember in a long time, the Izzone was chanting “Mady, Mady, Mady,” and in keeping Indiana from getting any closer than 5, Sissoko deserved every bit of that love from the crowd.