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Michigan State Knocks Off USC, 72-62, To Advance To 2nd Round

Defense steps up in 2nd half to help keep season alive

USC v Michigan State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The day when everyone’s favorite color is green. The day when the TOC community can validate its drinking in non-moderation. But also a day where MSU basketball has generally not been lucky. Today, MSU took on the USC Trojans in a recreation of perhaps the most famous war in Greek Mythology. And if you know anything about that story then you know that the city of Troy was razed to the ground at its end. So would this be a typical St. Paddy’s day for MSU or would it be a typical battle against Spartans for the USC Trojans?

Game Flow Highlights: In the early going, I was thinking we were going to see the Zaga/Tucky version of Mady Sissoko. First, there was his dribble drive down the lane for a monster dunk to give MSU its first points. And then, on USC’s next possession, Mady got just enough of his fingers on Tre White’s baseline drive to stop a dunk and then collected the loose ball. When Joey Hauser splashed in a triple on the ensuing trip, it felt like a good omen.

Michigan State grew the lead from there getting contributions from everyone who came on the floor. The three freshmen all were responsible for a couple of points in the opening half. With just over nine minutes to go until halftime, a second dunk from Mady stretched the lead to 11 with another dunk.

From there, however, USC began to chip away at MSU’s lead, and at the 2:23 mark, a split pair of FTs tied the game. After Jaxon Kohler converted on a turn-around jumper along the sideline to put his team back up two, Kobe Johnson hit a three-pointer to give USC their first lead since it was 2-0. The lead changed hands two more times before the halftime buzzer, and a jumper from AJ Hoggard tied the game as the final seconds tipped off. The score at the break was 34-34.

The big lead that MSU gave up at the end of the first half happened because the defense had several breakdowns, something that Izzo commented on to the sideline reporter before he went to the locker room. If that is what he said to the millions watching on TV, I can’t imagine what he said to his players behind closed doors. Well, I can imagine there were at least a few expletive-deleteds, and maybe he even snapped a clipboard in half or perhaps other objects were destroyed. Whatever was said, it obviously served its desired effect in the 2nd half.

For the first few minutes of the 2nd half, every time MSU would score, USC would answer. This pattern finally was broken at the under-16 whistle when Jaden Akins earned an &1 situation. After the commercial, however, “Shakin Bakin” would miss the FT, which turned out to be the beginning of MSU’s FT troubles.

After a couple more stops on the defensive end, Carson Cooper got his game going, getting back-to-back dunks. The second one was a put-back on an offensive rebound and he had to hold himself on the iron for a couple seconds to prevent himself from coming down on the defender who had just been put on a poster. Hey guys, did someone suggest Carson “Hangin’ with Mr.” Cooper for his nickname when we were giving these out the other week? If not, I’d like to nominate that now if you all will allow it. “Hangin' with Mr.” put MSU up nine, and USC called timeout.

Just like in the first half, the Trojans did manage to reduce the Spartan advantage with a 9-4 run to about the midpoint of the half. But MSU quickly got those five points back, and then a three-minute scoreless stretch of the game had MSU still up nine at the under-8.

Consecutive triples from Hauser and Akins pushed the lead to a game-high 15 with just over 4 minutes to go, causing USC to burn another timeout. Again, the Trojans responded, now getting their own back-to-back deep splashes to get back to within single digits. And then again, both offenses stalled. No points were scored until 1:06 was left on the clock and USC started sending MSU to the line intentionally. Joey would hit 3 of 4, Ty Fighter would sink 2, and finally Boss Hogg would split a pair to put MSU back up by ten. After a missed layup by USC, they let MSU dribble out the clock for the final 26 seconds. MSU won, 72-62.

Quick Analysis: This team was very responsive to coaching today. As a couple of you said in the game thread, it was a tie game at halftime and whichever coach made the better adjustments would win. Well, Coach Izzo got the defensive adjustments he needed out of his team, holding them to 28 points after the intermission. That was the difference in the game. As I write this, Izzo is courtside watching Marquette take on Vermont, the winner of which will be our next opponent on Sunday. Hopefully he sees things from this scouting trip for him to have more coaching lessons for his team.

3 Things I Liked:

1. The center position. Any time Mady, Jaxon, and Carson combine for 12 points, this will be my 1st like. With all the other scoring options on this team, we don’t need a bevy of points from the three-headed monster. But I won’t say no to double-digits from them, collectively. On top of that, they combined for ten rebounds. And a special shout-out to Mady’s two blocks, both of which were well-timed leaps that stopped points in the low-post. I was particularly impressed with Carson today. The way he moves without the ball to get to the spot on the floor where he can get the pass from the ballhandler and then go up for the easy score shows a very high basketball I.Q. Combined with his height and arm length make him a true hidden gem in Izzo’s recruiting.

2. Highlight-reel defensive plays. There were four plays in the second half that all exemplified the increased defensive intensity the Spartans played with after whatever Izzo said to them in the locker room. There was Mady forcing Boogie Ellis to step on the baseline as he tried to cut under the basket. There was Walker stealing the heave pass out of the air when the USC player tried to save the ball from going into the stands after a horrible cross-court pass. There was AJ stealing a pass at the top of the key on his way for an uncontested layup. And there was the aforementioned 2nd of Mady’s blocks. These certainly weren’t the only good defensive plays; in fact, even the spot-guarding was great and USC struggled to get good shots for most of the game. But these 4 plays were all the result of amazing efforts of reading the play and making the correct reaction.

3. Only ten total fouls in the game and no one with more than three whistles. It was an uncharacteristic performance from this aspect, but I’m not complaining. I like these refs and hope they call our Sunday game as well.

Bonus #4: Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith’s game of “Logo Geography Bee” at halftime. I will admit to only getting 2 of the 5.

3 Things I Did Not Like:

1. Free-throws. None of you are surprised this is #1, right? 15-25 isn’t going to cut it. There were a few missed front ends and a few missed &1s. Lot of freebie practicing coming up in the next 48 hours.

2. Only 11 assists on 26 FGs. Again, not a typical performance from Boss Hogg and Company.

3. I could complain about our 3FG% but I will not nitpick. Rather, I am just going to say I don’t like that the team I picked to win the championship in my bracket was eliminated on Day 1. That’s never happened to me before. I feel embarrassed. (I picked Zona).

Up Next: Winner of Vermont/Marquette. Marquette up 10 with 13:45 to go as I publish this.