The Spartans dominated in their return to Big Ten play. In every single facet of the game, Michigan State outplayed Penn State. The final score of 92-61 felt like Michigan State took their foot off the gas.
This game was a true embarrassment for Penn State. It was also a statement from the Spartans. The grades reflect their truly stellar play.
Details of the Curve for this Game: Penn State is picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten. Their non-conference performance was not particularly inspiring. Still, the team had shown fight in the early Big Ten Games. The Nittany Lions took Maryland to overtime before losing and beat Ohio State by three. This game was expected to be a win for the Spartans, but still a challenging conference game.
Michigan State started strong. It’s incredible to think about how slow the Spartans were starting games early in the season. The recent winning streak has featured strong, confident Spartan offenses making their mark early in games. The Spartans offense in this game followed that winning formula, finding layups, some long threes and an incredibly patient end of the shot clock pass from Hoggard to a waiting Malik Hall for a buzzer-beating layup.
The scoring pace dipped slightly as MSU utilized its bench. Tre Holloman made a heads-up play driving to the basket off a broken inbounds play. Xavier Booker contributed by turning a Sissoko airball into a short jumper. However, beyond these plays, the second group didn’t maintain the initial scoring pace.
Around the ten-minute mark of the first half, the offense exploded. With the starters back on the floor, the offense surged, highlighted by Holloman’s elbow jumper and Tyson Walker’s two deep threes. This pushed the lead to 33-16 by the 8-minute TV timeout.
Any recap of this game would be remiss if it did not highlight a half court play late in the first half. Tyson Walker, continuing to play the point with AJ Hoggard on the bench, dribbled off a top of the key screen, and with one hand heaved the ball straight up in the air. Miraculously Coen Carr came out of the rafters and caught a completely uncontested alley oop that he slammed down with authority. It was a ridiculous pass to an athlete that may not have an equal in the country this year.
The first half ended with MSU tallying 51 points. That’s a ridiculous tally against any team, particularly a Big Ten opponent. The Spartans shot 65% from the field and 63% from three in the half. They also had 17 assists on 20 made field goals. This was a dominant performance before the break.
In the second half, MSU maintained their energy, continuing to hit outside shots with Walker and Akins making threes. The offense, however, faced a three-minute scoring drought marked by turnovers and Penn State overpowering MSU’s freshmen for rebounds. This allowed Penn State to reduce the deficit to 20 points.
While MSU’s shooting cooled, particularly Akins’ from deep, they still finished the game shooting over 50% from both deep and the floor before garbage time set in.
Offensive Grade: A
Fast hands by Tyson Walker compensated for a few early defensive lapses. Although Penn State looked overwhelmed, they managed to get some good shots, which fortunately for MSU, did not connect.
Early concerns centered around Carson Cooper’s lack of defensive grit. Watching Penn State navigate around him and secure rebounds was troubling.
The defense tightened in the first ten minutes of the game. Despite Penn State finding scoring opportunities, most were hard-earned, particularly against MSU’s starting five.
When the offense is rolling, Michigan State’s defense seems to turn it up a notch. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, the Spartans are dangerous when they go on a run. The Spartans had a stunning 12-points off turnovers by the 8-minute time out. That advantage helped shut down Penn State and spark MSU blowing the game open.
The Spartans’ offense often seemed to elevate their defense. By the 8-minute timeout, MSU had amassed 12 points off turnovers, helping them extend their lead.
In the first 15 minutes, MSU forced 13 turnovers, disrupting Penn State’s usually careful ball-handling. Walker, in particular, was a defensive standout, securing six steals in the first half.
Any concerns that MSU would lose defensive focus in the second half were quickly dispelled. Although the Nittany Lions scored a few baskets, MSU continued to force turnovers and create fast-break opportunities.
This momentum shifted during a 14-4 run by Penn State, which coincided with extended minutes for Booker and Carr. Even when the starters returned, the defense looked disoriented.
However, once MSU refocused defensively, they re-established their transition game and expanded their lead to over 25 points.
It was concerning to see the drop off in defense with Booker and Carr on the floor together. Down the road, the Spartans will need them to play better together. In this game, the starters carried the weight.
The defensive effort was clearly better in the first half. Regardless, the first half was a clinic and is a big reason for the grade.
Defensive Grade: A
The Spartans found some opportunities to push the ball early in the game. Most surprisingly was who was leading it: Tyson Walker. The fifth year guard pushing the ball multiple times in transition was a sign of growth in his game and a potential valuable addition to the team’s pace. Even though some of that early effort resulted in some out of control play, the struggle is worth the potential long term addition to his game.
The transition game truly got out of hand as the defense stole the ball over and over again. Malik Hall hanging on the basket after a Tyson Walker steal led to a run out was the cherry on top. Hall is not who you would have bet would be taking open court alley oops. In this game though it was working for everyone. The push from Tre Holloman and Tyson Walker extended the lead to 41-18 with five minutes left in the first half.
When the Spartans started to go dry on offense and struggle on defense, it was the transition game that put things right. A Tre Holloman full court drive helped spark the Spartans back to life and answer a run by the Nittany Lions. The scoring was then carried by another Walker transition three and some hard drives by AJ Hoggard.
A back breaker appeared to be a Walker snake dribble to the hoop that saw him blow by four Penn State defenders for an uncontested layup. It put the lead back up over 20-points and left the Nittany Lions hanging their heads.
Transition was clearly a key for the Spartans. The first half was dominant with the extensive steals. Most impressively was the push Walker and others - even Malik Hall - displayed throughout this game.
Transition Grade: A
This game felt like it was more of a tune up early on than expected. It looked like Coach Izzo had individual assignments for his players to get better at key aspects of their games.
Tyson Walker played some more point guard early and sacrificed control to push the ball hard in transition.
Malik Hall looked like he was challenged to play the post and hang out in the dunker spot. The senior had 11-points in the first ten minutes, so that worked out.
Mady Sissoko was fed more true post touches than we’ve seen in weeks - maybe even all year. Even as those touches all too often became turnovers, the offense seemed to stick with getting him the opportunity to face up to the basket. Perhaps that is a sign the offense wants to start getting familiar with that approach for the impending return of Jaxon Kohler. Or perhaps it was a reward for Mady Sissoko playing much better in recent games.
Coen Carr saw extended minutes at the three position, indicating a need for his capabilities at the wing, especially with Jeremy Fears out and Jaxon Kohler’s return looming. While Carr’s threat in the lob game and activity were evident, his shooting ability as a wing remains to be seen.
Coming out of halftime, Izzo had the Spartans focused. They played hard, poured on some more offense and silenced a push from the Nittany Lions. From there though, the Spartans cooled off and Izzo proved he will never stop coaching.
A called timeout around the 12 minute mark was necessary as the Spartans got sloppy and started missing open shots. More concerning for the development of the roster was the sloppiness coincided with Xavier Booker getting an extended run where he got outmuscled on three straight plays. Izzo was clear he wanted more out of his team, despite the huge lead.
Izzo clearly did not get the effort from Coen Carr and Xavier Booker he wanted. He went back to his starters when Penn State put together a run. The starters quickly put the lead back out to more than 25 points.
The Spartans were clearly better from tip to final whistle. It seemed Izzo was expecting that. He utilized the game like another tune up and got specific improvements from key players. Even those that did not play well (Cooper, Carr and Booker) got extended run and a lot of film to learn from. This was an impressive coaching performance.
Coaching Grade: A
This game was a complete domination. The Spartans embarrassed a Big Ten opponent. Penn State is not going to be a good team this year. Despite that, it’s rare to see a 30-point margin in this league.
The Spartans first half defense was impressive. The team as a whole forced turnover after turnover. Any game where Tyson Walker has six steals in a half of basketball is impressive.
Offensively, the Spartans hung 51 points on an opponent by half and scored more than 90 points for the game. The scoring was balanced and multi faceted. The shooting lights out.
The Spartans got the rare big win with some important lessons to learn. That’s an all around great outcome.
Overall Grade: A