Welcome to March, Spartans!
On Saturday afternoon, MSU took the floor for Senior Day against Ohio State, coming away with an 84-78 victory over the disappointing Buckeyes. Here are four moments that made the difference.
1) Malik Hall’s emphatic dunk on MSU’s first possession of the day, leading to a dominant run for the Spartans
After Ohio State won the opening tipoff and Tyson Walker committed the first foul of the ballgame 21 seconds into play, the Buckeyes took the lead. On the other end, Malik Hall buried an alleyoop dunk from AJ Hoggard, and the Breslin Center exploded. After a Justice Sueing layup,. AJ Hoggard drained a three, and that was it for Ohio State, who never led again. By the under 12 minute media timeout, MSU was on a 15-2 run, capped by a Tre Holloman three pointer. When Holloman’s shot fell, it felt like nobody in green and white could do any wrong on the offensive end of the floor.
Michigan State’s offense looked explosive yet again, scoring more than 80 points for the fourth consecutive game. Hoggard led the way with 23 points, including several key free throws down the stretch to close the Buckeyes out. Five Spartans ended up in double figures, and fourteen saw the floor.
2) Ohio State’s responses in the second half, answering virtually every time, keeping it close throughout
After the MSU hot streak to open the game, Ohio State was able to claw back into the game, making shot after shot to keep MSU from pulling away. Brice Sensabaugh took over to open the half, successfully draining two three pointers on the first two Buckeye possessions. Bruce Thornton and Sean McNeil joined the party, hitting open looks time after time. Thornton and Sensabaugh both ended up with more than 20 points, while McNeil and Justice Sueing both ended up in double figures.
3) Sissoko’s struggles under the basket, and the general struggles from the 5 spot
It’s definitely a tiresome subject at this point in the season, and I’m not going to mention Tom Izzo’s gamble in avoiding the transfer portal to shore up the center position, but the what-ifs that come every game are piling up when we see the production from the 5. Several times on Saturday, Ohio State was able to strip the ball from Mady Sissoko under the basket. In one instance, Sissoko missed both free throws. Ohio State’s primary big, Zed Key, has missed several games with an injury, leaving freshman Felix Okpara in his place. None of MSU’s bigs were able to get much traction - Sissoko had 4 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes, while Jaxon Kohler had 1 rebound in 7 minutes, and Carson Cooper had a turnover in his 3 minutes. The Spartans’ offense is obviously clicking as the Big Ten season comes to an end, but the performance from the team’s centers will have to improve if they can actually make a run over the next few weeks.
4 ) Tyson Walker is the man, Example 1000
Tyson Walker had a quiet start to Saturday’s game, fouling inside of the first thirty seconds, but he had a very loud closing. With 5:28 to play, Ohio State had closed to within 3 points, and Tom Izzo called a timeout to interrupt the Buckeyes’ momentum. Coming out of the timeout, Tyson Walker ended up with the basketball on the baseline and somehow maneuvered his way through traffic with more than a little grace to the basket, and laid it in. The one possession game became a two possession game, and the game would never be that close again. Game after game, Tyson Walker is showing his growth and his ability to be a take-charge guard at the highest level of college basketball. Throughout much of the season, this Spartan team seemed to lack that sort of presence. Tyson Walker, who had a fairly quiet 15 points on the afternoon, is developing into that presence at just the right time.