There was another coast-to-coast win for Michigan State on Thursday night in East Lansing. The Spartans got their fifth win in a row and saw their trend of strong starts and games where they never trail continue. MSU jumped out to a 4-0 run in the first minute on the heels of baskets from Malik Hall and Tyson Walker. Call that foreshadowing as that pair ended up being the leading scorers for the game, finishing with 24 and 22 points, respectively.
While Penn State did hang around with MSU for the first eight minutes, only trailing by six points at the under-12 timeout, it was clear early on that one team was playing with more intensity, not to mention more overall skill and talent. After the midway point of the first half, the home team began to slowly stretch out their lead while really asserting their dominance in all facets of the game. In the opening twenty, MSU created 14 PSU turnovers. Offensively, the Spartans were moving the ball around with precision and with a plan, and they were scoring from everywhere with ease. They went into the locker room up 51-26, their most first-half points all season, and one of their biggest leads after 20 minutes.
The first eight minutes of the second half were similar to the first eight of the opening half, with Michigan State unable to stretch the lead out much further, only adding two points to it. After that, however, it was Penn State who started to score with a little less resistance, and they reduced a lead that had been as high as 27 all the way down to 19.
But after that, the Spartans flipped their switch back on and dominated the Nittany Lions up until the benchwarmers came on. In the end, MSU won by 31 points, 92-61. It was their second highest scoring output of the season and matched their third largest margin of victory. Most importantly, this win got rid of the bagel that MSU had in the win column in Big Ten play.
3 Things I Liked:
- AJ’s 3-point shot. Overall, it was a bit of a quieter night from the point guard. That said, I think we saw another encouraging sign in what has been a recent development from Hoggard. The senior sunk a pair of three-pointers in the first half, going 2-3 in the half from deep. This was the biggest thing missing from his arsenal. Obviously, Hoggard is a great distributor, both in the half court and in transition. He can get his own points by using his strength to move weaker defenders towards the basket. And his defense has been solid. The biggest negative in his game had been his long-range shooting. But after the last few games, I don’t worry about that as much as I used to. He has been hitting it at a better clip during this win streak. Tonight, he was shooting the three with confidence. The mechanics look really good. And, of course, shooting 50% will earn praise here. If AJ can remain this sort of deep threat, well, look out Big Ten.
- Malik Hall’s assertiveness. The player that had earned much of the scorn from TOC Nation, myself included, in the early season struggles has perhaps turned the corner. Tonight, we saw the full potential of what Malik can be. Looking for his shot early and often, the super senior shot 6-6 in the first half for 15 points. He would finish with 24 points on 9-12 shooting, including nailing both of his triple tries. On top of that, he also stuffed the stat sheet with five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. His offense had good variety. We saw low post moves. We saw jumpers from two- and three-point range. And we even had a couple of dunks. If Malik can start playing with more consistency, something the Peacock commentators even mentioned has been his issue over the last couple of seasons, then that gives MSU four legitimate scoring threats in the starting lineup.
- Active hands. In the first half, MSU had 11 steals leading to 20 points off turnovers. Walker had 6 of those steals. This went a long way in MSU’s 26-18 advantage in points in the paint at the break. In the second half, the intensity subsided a bit. MSU only added two more steals and four more points off turnovers after halftime, but it was still enough to dominate those categories over the full forty minutes. Five Spartans - Hall, Walker, Akins, Carr, and Cooper - had steals against Penn State.
3 Things I Disliked:
- Walker missing the FT at the end of the first half costing MSU a chance to double up PSU at halftime. Could have been 52-26, which is just mathematically more pleasing than the 51-26 it ended up being. Hey, when the game is as lopsided as it was, I won’t be as critical as Coach Izzo was throughout (and I don’t mean that as a criticism, so no need to come at me).
- Taking the foot off the accelerator. MSU had some sloppy play in the first eight minutes of the 2nd half. There was Cooper’s dropped pass when he was the only one in the paint. There was Walker getting caught in the air on the baseline. And there were other moments where their play was not as crisp as it was in the first half. Somehow MSU did not give up any ground from their halftime lead in that time. The next four minutes is when PSU, at last, began taking advantage of the slop and trimmed the lead down to as little as 19 before MSU picked it back up. MSU did finish the game on a 21-9 run after that point so at least the lull was not permanent. But overall, the Spartans were not firing on all cylinders in the second half. A couple of stats to demonstrate that, Walker had 6 steals and 5 assists in the first half; those would be his final stats in those categories as well. No consequences from it in tonight’s game, but Izzo was correct to continue coaching them hard in the second half. Better teams would be capable of pulling off big comebacks, and MSU can’t let that happen later in the season.
- Lil Izzo’s Caitlin Clark impression. There was a moment of hope from me when Steven launched that three, but by the time it was halfway to the rim, I realized it’s path was going to come up short. I like the confidence, just want to see a bit more basketball IQ. He had room to step in and launch without a defender getting to him.
VICTORY FOR MSU!!
On a side note, I had sent over some questions to the PSU writer ahead of this game, but he never bothered to send me back any answers. That is why I did not put out a 5Qs article in the last day or so. If you are feeling so inclined, feel free to swing over to the PSU SB Nation page, blackshoediaries, and let them know that MSU has a more professional SBN staff.