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3 Likes & 3 Dislikes: MSU Outlasts Minnesota, 76-66

Hot start and strong finish help the Spartans get the victory

Minnesota v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

On a cold Thursday evening in East Lansing, the Michigan State Spartans hosted the Minnesota Golden Gophers with an opportunity to win their second straight conference game and begin to start crawling their way up the conference standings. Judging by the way the game started, MSU was going to cruise in this one. The Spartans could not have written a better start to this game. Mady Sissoko won the jump ball, as is tradition, and 17 seconds later, Malik Hall opened up the scoring after backing down his defender and hitting the turnaround jumper. On their first defensive stand, Jaden Akins slapped the ball away from a Minnesota big man, and that lead to a Tyson Walker bucket plus the shooting foul where he would get one more point. They would actually score the first seven points of this game and would lead 13-5 at the first commercial break.

But from there, the game was very even. In fact, most of the first half was played with MSU’s advantage fluctuating between three and seven points; the halftime lead was five. In the second half, it became even tighter. Minnesota scored the first five points after the break to tie the game, and they even took a lead less than three minutes in. The two teams traded the lead a few times and then the game bounced back and forth between a tie and a small MSU advantage.

Minnesota tied the game again at the 5:39 mark, with the game knotted at 62. MSU would score next at 3:38 on a Walker jumper; a whistle a few seconds later sent the game to the last TV timeout. After that, the home team finally began to assert itself like it had in the early minutes, mostly on the back of Walker, who scored 12 of MSU’s final 14 points, and MSU pulled away late for a double-digit win. The announcers had pointed out in the final moments that all of MSU’s wins this season had been by at least 12 points, so this was their closest win. With that, MSU gets to 3-4 in conference play, which ties them with Minnesota and a few others, and they are now 11-7 overall.

3 Things I Liked:

  1. Let’s start with that opening segment. One of the biggest talking points regarding MSU’s poor early season record was their propensity for falling behind big early in games. Today was quite the opposite, affording them the opportunity to play most of this game with the lead and never have to play catch-up. They made a point of feeding Malicious, who in turn made a point of looking for his shot (and converting). And Carson Cooper ran the floor and was fed the ball for a running two-handed dunk that forced Minnesota to call its first timeout. MSU punched first, and as a result, they were mostly in control of the game. In fact, their largest deficit was one point. MSU needs to continue to be the aggressor early in games, capture momentum, and play from ahead. When they do that, they get to dictate their rotations as opposed to having to respond to the opponents’ five on the floor.
  2. Booker’s Assist. This one will end up being a bit of a side note as it was the only thing of significance for this player, but I did want to give recognition to the assist Xavier Booker had. Standing near the foul line, he took an entry pass and without really even catching it, he sent it to the baseline to a cutting Coop Deville, who went up strong for his second dunk of the game (though it was his third dunk attempts). It was an absolutely beautiful pass. I had hoped it would lead to a strong performance for Stretch, but we did not see much of him after that. This was still a new item in his arsenal, so he gets a nod here.
  3. Hall reading TOC. I can think of no other explanation for Malicious’ sudden consistently high level of play other than he read my article a week ago and took it to heart. Tonight was his third consecutive game scoring at least 14. He finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists for his first double-double of the season. I will happily get used to this.

3 Things I Disliked:

  1. Elijah Hawkins missing the game. Just before the game started, the announcers told us that Minnesota’s Elijah Hawkins would not be playing due to injury. Hawkins leads the nation in assists and is second in the B1G in steals. I would have liked to have seen MSU play him and have to deal with someone who is such a factor on both ends of the floor. Hopefully he is back in the lineup when we visit them in a few weeks.
  2. Sissoko’s free-throw shooting. The Mali Mauler came into tonight shooting 80% on the season from the stripe. At one point earlier in the year, he was up at 89% (17/19). The drop is the result of Mady going 64% (7/11) on FTs in the last five games. Tonight, he was particularly atrocious, going 3-8 at the line including one trip where he missed a pair. Not sure what has happened to cause him to revert to previous years’ numbers, but we need him to snap out of it and get back to his accuracy levels from earlier this year. We need him to score one way or another; if he isn’t going to make his shots down low, at least he is drawing fouls. But he needs to make those FTs.
  3. Not being able to protect the early cushion. In a game where the opponent is playing without arguably their best player, I would have expected the Spartans to be able to grow their early lead. But MSU allowed Minnesota to stay in it mostly due to the visitors shooting significantly better from three-point territory and the FT line. This was particularly true in the first half when the visitors connected on three additional triples and four more FTs. This allowed the Gophers to nullify the enormous advantage that MSU had in steals, points off turnovers, and points in the paint. Basically, this should not have been a game that was decided in the final four minutes.

But our Spartans hung on and got the victory. Now they get back on the road with a visit to Maryland on Sunday.