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3 Likes & 3 Dislikes: MSU Survives Maryland, 61-59

Spartans dominate first half, get outplayed in second, eek out win in final minute

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Apologies for the lateness of this article. BBD is out of the country, and I was at the Detroit Lions game yesterday and just finished watching the game.

This was a classic “tale of two halves” game with the Spartans claiming a twelve-point lead at halftime, but then seeing that lead completely deleted in the second half, even facing a deficit as late as seven minutes remaining, and then being forced to stop a final possession where Maryland had a chance to tie or even win the game.

With the win, MSU has evened their conference record at 4-4. More importantly, after being at the bottom of the Big Ten standings a little over a week ago, they now find themselves in a tie for fifth place along with Indiana and Nebraska.

Let’s look at a few notes from Sunday’s victory.

3 Things I Liked:

1. Expanded roles. I am betting this one won’t be a popular opinion with many of you, but I see this as Tom Izzo just doing something now that he would have eventually done in March anyway. I am referring to the shortening of the bench. Part of this has to do with injury (Jeremy Fears) and some has to do with lack of confidence/trust (Xavier Booker). Even Coen Carr has seen a massive reduction in his playing time of late, having not played more than a dozen minutes in the last five games after consistently playing between 15 and 20 minutes for most of the season. In yesterday’s game, we basically saw a seven-man rotation with a lot of guys playing more than they are accustomed to, and more than what I presume many of you would like them to be playing.

AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker both were in for at least thirty-five minutes. Hall was in for 32. Due to Mady Sissoko’s foul trouble, Carson Cooper got 27 minutes of run, his second highest total of the season; Mady only played ten minutes. Tre Holloman came in just under that with 26 minutes. Jaden Akins, who was helped off the court late in the first half with an injury but who would return to start the second half, was out there for 22 minutes. And Carr played nine minutes in a limited role.

The thing I found most interesting about the rotation was Izzo’s use of Holloman as the backup for Akins, giving us a lineup with all three guards - Hoggard, Walker, and Holloman - on the court together. Too soon to give it a grade, but I predict we will see this with more frequency as the season progresses.

As for Cooper’s high usage yesterday, he gets a passing grade from me. I can’t give him high marks simply because he did not contribute any points for his team. He did make a number of big defensive plays, however, none more entertaining than his two-handed volleyball block on Jordan Geronimo early in the second. As always, he was setting a high number of screens for the primary ball handlers. His four rebounds, two blocks, and a steal did go a long way in helping MSU escape by the slimmest of margins.

While I am disappointed in the reality that Booker will not be a regular part of the team this season (he’ll see the court for five minutes a game if he sees it at all), I think Izzo has already gone into March mode and is going to feature the players he has belief in. The concern is with the shorter rotation getting fatigued as we go through February and March, but these are young men, so I won’t worry about that too much.

2. Following a script. It seems like every game lately starts the same. Mady Sissoko wins the jump ball (I think this has happened in all but one game this season) and then Malik Hall gets the scoring started on the first possession. Like in football where the first ten to fifteen offensive plays are usually predetermined, I think this team also benefits from running the same scheme to start each game. We’ve seen this team get off to good starts the last few outings. Now we just need them to have a better script to start the second half.

3. Percentages. MSU shot 43.8% from three and 75% from the free throw line. Both those figures are above the Spartans’ season average. Let’s keep getting those numbers to climb.

3 Things I Disliked:

1. Mady’s foul trouble. On the other hand of the praise I gave Cooper, there is this. Due to accumulating four fouls, each in a short stint on the floor, Mady only saw ten minutes of action. Simply put, he needs to be out there more. He is still the better rebounder than Cooper is, and for now at least, he does seem like he looks for his shot a little more on offense than his understudy does.

2. Assists? MSU only had nine assists on this game. Even considering that we only made 21 FGs, this is still an alarmingly low number. PG AJ Hoggard only dished out a pair of dimes and his primary backup, Tre Holloman, only had one. Tyson Walker picked up some of the slack with a handful of helpers. But this number is indicative of 1. A lot of empty possessions; and 2. A lot of isolation plays. That is not Izzo’s recipe for success.

3. Offensive rebounding disparity. The Spartans only secured two offensive rebounds against Maryland. On the other hand, Maryland pulled down nine. Overall, the Terrapins outrebounded MSU 37-22. That’s disgusting.

Anyway, MSU pulled out the win. That’s now eight wins in their last ten games. Next game is Friday night when they go to Madison to try and exact revenge on Wisconsin for beating us in our Big Ten opener back in December.

Victory for MSU!!!