Michigan State used an offensive barrage to hold off a rejuvenated Ohio State team on Senior Day. Michigan State scored 80+ points for the fourth game in a row, and needed all of that offense to pull out the win 84-78.
Ohio State drew within five points with 6.9 seconds left, forcing the Spartans to squeeze in the traditional kiss the logo exit for its “seniors” creating an awkward situation where the game still felt too close to fully celebrate.
“Seniors“ Maik Hall, Jason Whitens, Tyson Walker and surprisingly Joey Hauser all got the standing ovation and kiss the logo routine. Every one of these players except Whitens could technically be back next year. Hauser has said he would not “walk” as a senior off the court because he did it last year, still got the honor again. For Hauser this is most likely the true last home game for the graduate student.
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: This is the offense Michigan State Expected All Year - It’s Coming with Some Costs
Michigan State has scored 80+ points against Big Ten competition four games in a row. This offensive hot streak to close the season is in stark contrast to the bulk of the Spartans games in the Big Ten where they were extremely consistent scoring about 65 points a game.
This is the offense MSU expected this year. Their roster features five guys who can realistically score 15-20 points a game, and should at least average double figures. Even with injuries slowing Jaden Akins early and Malik Hall late, it was still a mystery why MSU seemed to lack offensive firepower for so much of the season.
Today, all five of those guys went for double figures: AJ Hoggard (23), joey Hauser (16), Tyson Walker (15), Jaden Akins (13), and Malik Hall (10).The 80+ points a game makes sense when MSU has three guys shooting well. For so much of this year, it would be two guys shooting well, and the rest struggling.
When you have that balanced scoring, it also allows the less offensively inclined interior players to focus on what they need to do: rebound. Maddy Sissoko delivered that with 7 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Offense like this makes Michigan State very dangerous as they look to the postseason. Even on a night where Tyson Walker’s three point shooting was off (just 1 for 4), he stayed aggressive finding 15 points through a combination of great drives and savvy moves to get jumpers.
The concern with this level of great offense is its impact on the defense.
Prior to this hot shooting, Michigan State was winning games scoring 65 points because it was holding opponents to low shooting percentage and defending the three.
In the four games before today, Michigan State had allowed University of Michigan to score 84 (in a loss), respectably held Indiana to 65 (a win), allowed Iowa to score 112 (in overtime - a loss), and held Nebraska to 67 (a win).
The problem with the stat from Nebraska was the first half saw Nebraska score the most points of any team in the first half against MSU this season. It took a monster second half effort - and rediscovered defense over the final 14 minutes of the game to get the final result.
From those four games to today allowing Ohio State to score 78 feels like a concerning pattern. Ohio State’s 78 points was only the second time this team has scored more than 75 points in 2023.
Michigan State needs to make sure it is not falling in love with its offense to the detriment of its defense.
POINT 2: To Live and Die By The Three in March
Michigan State is on its way to a postseason where it lives and dies by the three. Offensively they are red hot from three, shooting over 50% over the last few games.
Even on a night where Tyson Walker was off from three (only 1-4) the team was picked up by Hauser again shooting lights out from three (3 of 3) and Akins going 3 for 4.
Even AJ Hoggard got into the act, going 2 for 3 from three.
Over the last few games, Michigan State has made it look like the three point is a part of their offense. That’s what you want, the three to spread the floor and make you dangerous from everywhere.
For too much of today’s game they turned to the three to bail them out.
Prior to Tyson Walker taking over late to get some nice drives going, MSU seemed to wait for someone to stand on the three point line and hit it. Too often ball movement stopped, players stopped running, and the team seemed to assume a three would fall.
Most of the time today it did fall - hence the win. Red hot three point shooting can cover a lot of sins. The signs are there of a team that can thrive on the three and die by the three if they don’t keep making them at this clip.
Ohio State stayed in this game because it stopped MSU taking three pointers in the second half. Yes, the Spartans shot an impressive 4 of 6 in the second, but their attempts were almost a third of their attempts in the first half where the went 8 of 14.
The script to beat MSU is keep MSU off the three point line - or disrupt their shooting. It’s that simple on paper. MSU is winning because they haven’t let teams stop them in the past ten days. That has not been true all season.
MSU must continue to work the ball into the paint. Today, Malik Hall gave that dimension at times, and at other times looked surprisingly tired or tentative. Joey Hauser had a few notable post moves to bring the ball near the basket, but the team still looks uncomfortable going to that offensive set generally.
To add to the concern about this approach is the trade off MSU has defensively at the three point line. Opponents are starting to shoot high percentages against a previously very stingy Spartan defense.
Iowa of course got red hot to close the game and create heartbreak in that wrenching overtime loss. That team, and that type of craziness happens - and the less we talk about it the better.
The problem is Ohio State came into this game averaging 35% from three, and shot almost 50% for this game. Ohio State averages 6.5 threes a game and made 11 in this game. Prior to the last ten days, the Spartans were one of the best three point defensive teams in the country. Now, alongside MSU’s newfound offensive fire power, they are letting other teams follow suit and shoot the lights out.
This makes MSU very dangerous, it also means MSU lives and dies by the three - a scary proposition as we move to one and done tournament formats.
POINT 3: Michigan State Needs to Figure Out the End of Games
It’s amazing to feel this negative after a win. Michigan State finished the year scoring well, and has some momentum heading into the postseason. Underlying it all though is a glaring problem the Spartans have had since the start of the year: how to finish games.
Early in the year, the Spartans struggled to close out games. They lost to Gonzaga in part because of that, and had notable struggles against inferior opponents like Portland.
The end of game struggles clearly caught up with them at Iowa. Even holding that as an anomaly, MSU showed against Ohio State that it is still vulnerable at the end of games.
MSU got one defensive stop in the final 2:30 of the game. That stop came on a wild drive by Ohio State that arguably was more an Ohio State problem, then good defense by MSU.
MSU has tried to end games with defense (example: Portland and Gonzaga)- and struggled. It has tried to end games with foul shots (example Iowa), and today went small to keep offensive firepower on the floor for the final four minutes and it was still too close.
One more Ohio State three pointer and this game may have ended very differently.
Offensively, Michigan State has their formula for end of games. Run the offense through Tyson Walker, and hope he either pulls out a good shot or finds a player that can take the shot. When the fouling starts, MSU puts the ball in AJ Hoggard’s hands. This is clarity the team did not have for the first half of the season. It’s a great evolution. The problem is they still do not have the defensive formula down.
Against Iowa they did not switch onto shooters and against a Ohio State team without a considerably sized center, MSU tried small ball. Neither really worked. Yes, they won today, but not because of any actual stopping power at the end of the game.
And 1 (POINT 4 - Shamelessly taking this extra point): Watch the Big Ten Games Tomorrow - MSU Could Still Get the Double-Buy in the Big Ten Tournament
A little plug for another article I wrote: The Spartan cheering guide for the weekend Big Ten Games.
It’s crazy to think about it, but MSU COULD still technically get the double-buy in the Big Ten Tournament. The games that need to go MSU’s way are all Sunday afternoon and early evening. It should be a fun day of basketball.