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Michigan State Beats Maryland in a Battle: Post Game Grades for The Spartans

The Spartans pulled away late from a Maryland Team that fought every minute of the game. Despite allowing Jahmir Young to score 31, MSU found their winner in Malik Hall.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State won a hard fought game over Maryland. For the second time this season, Michigan State stayed calm and fought through a tough challenge from the Terrapins. The final score of 63-54 is not fully representative. This was the type of game where a five point lead felt like 20-points. It also felt like either team could win it going into the closing four minutes.

The Spartans rode their starting lineup for almost the entire game. Malik Hall played a fantastic game and logged 34 minutes. Walker logged 33, Akins 32, and Hoggard 31. The calm determination of those four fueled this win. Now let’s get to the team grades:

Details of the Curve for this Game: Maryland is a relatively even matchup for the Spartans. Their first game came down to a two point differential. The Terrapins excel when their defense stifles the other team and their athletes in the front court can create opportunities. The front court alone makes them a difficult matchup for the Spartans. Still, the talent level is relatively similar as has been the season performance. The grades should essentially have no curve.

Offense:

Michigan State continued to rotate its opening plays around its veteran players. The Spartans tend to feature a play for Hall, Walker or Jaden Akins in the early possessions of each game. This game was Malik Hall. The fifth year senior took a ball deep in the post, drew three defenders and had a great drop off pass to Mady Sissoko. Sissoko hasn’t scored much recently (ever?), and it was a good reminder to the Terrapins that they need to defend both players in the post. If Hall can be a force down there in this game, he will need any space he can get.

An offensive lineup that could be a glimpse of some of the future saw: Carson Cooper, Jaxon Kohler, Jaden Akins, Tyson Walker and Tre Holloman. Other than Walker, that group should all be at MSU next year. It was that lineup that found a way to push the lead out to 9 by being strong down low and playing inside out offense. It was a short run, but an intriguing one for this year and definitely for next year.

The return of Julian Reese to the floor coincided with a much improved Maryland defense. They pressured the Spartans into bad shots, forced turnovers, and grabbed rebounds. It took post moves by Malik Hall to generate offense and eventually draw the third foul on Reese.

Late in the first half the Spartans looked like they were wearing down. Tyson Walker came into the game nursing a groin injury. Still he had 12 points in the first 15 minutes. But he also looked tired late. He missed two free throws then an open layup. That four point miss helped Maryland stay close.

A gritty final possession for the Spartans saw AJ Hoggard facing a larger defender in Maryland’s Jordan Geronimo. The move Hoggard pulled off gave the Spartans a 31-27 half time lead.

While Michigan State had many scorers in the first half, outside of Tyson Walker’s 12, no Spartan had more than 5 points in the first half. The odd stat for the offense was the three pointers. Michigan State only took 5 (compared to Maryland taking 17).

In the second half Michigan State’s offense ground to a halt. The ball movement was slower than the first half, and too often it looked like Maryland was able to push the Spartans around. The only two baskets in the first six and a half minutes was an iso drive by Walker (where he got the and-1) and a Malik Hall turn around jumper (as close to a go to move as he has). Notably, neither were assisted.

Both AJ Hoggard and Tre Holloman had passes that went straight into the front seats. Holloman had a second right before being pulled for Hoggard. Those types of sloppy plays have been something they have largely avoided this year.

Michigan State had more turnovers in the first 12-minutes of the first half (5) than made baskets (4). It was impressive they were holding onto the lead during that stretch.

The Spartans finally found some offensive rhythm feeding the ball to Jaden Akins. A near three off a pin down was the first assisted basket of the half. A few possessions later some great passing led to a wide open three for Akins. Akins had three more open looks but could not convert. This cold stretch allowed Maryland to take their first lead of the game.

As the end of the game approached, Malik Hall did what seniors are supposed to do: takeover tight games. With Tyson Walker largely silent in the second half, Hall exploded late in the second half. In one stretch he hit a huge three, grabbed the defensive rebound then took a drive to the hoop for an and-1. It was part of a 12-2 run that started after Maryland took their first lead of the game. The collective effort - particularly by Hall - was a huge change in the trajectory of the game and gave Michigan State its first comfortable lead of the second half.

When they needed it, the Spartan offense delivered. The scoring down the stretch saw the starting lineup (with Cooper instead of Sissoko) impose their will on offense and create separation. This closing stretch does not cover up all of the warts fo the first 12-minutes of the second behalf.

For the game, the Spartans shot a respectable 44% from the floor but only 28% from three. The three pointer is a concerning trend for the Spartans. Outside of Jaden Akins taking seven 3-pointers, the rest of the team combined for only seven attempts. MSU took less than half the number of three pointers Maryland took. For a team shooting in the upper echelon in the country from long range, that number of attempts is worth watching as the season continues.

The offense was carried by Walker and Hall with 19 points each. Hoggard also played a strong game with 8 assists (and 3 steals). This type of senior leadership was how MSU was predicted to win games this year. It’s nice to see it coming out, even if the offense should have seen more production outside of those three.

Offense Grade: B

Defense:

The Spartan defense started strong. Double teams in the post and early wrestling by Mady Sissoko against Julian Reese stymied early flow for the Terrapins. It also helped that MSU drew two early fouls on Julian Reese, which took a major weapon out of the mix for the Terrapins.

MSU’s defense had fast hands and good rotations. A surprisingly good defensive stretch featured Carson Cooper at the five and Jaxon Kohler at the four. Cooper had a monster block, and Kohler caused two turnovers by stepping in on driving big men. The defensive stand helped MSU’s offense push the lead out to 14-5 with just over 13 minutes left in the first half.

The Terrapins were being carried by two of their big three with Julian Reese on the bench. Donta Scott had the early offense. Jahmir Young hit from three steps behind the 3-point line as time expired on the shot clock. That sent him on a quick 5-0 run. Once Reese returned it powered Maryland to back within two points of the Spartans.

Michigan State was clearly better off with Reese on the bench. Still, Jahmir Young started hunting mismatches and found a few including blowing past Mady Sissoko who had switched onto him after a screen. Maryland is athletic enough top to bottom to give the Spartans defensive fits in those types of switches.

The Spartans held the Terrapins to under 30% shooting for most of the first half. Until the final five minutes it was closer to 25%. Fatigue seemed to set in for the Spartans as Jahmir Young and Donta Scott found deep threes over Michigan State defenders that did not have their hands up.

The physicality and whistle picked up in the second half. After a relatively low fouling game in the first half both teams ended the half with 5), there were a flurry of early whistles. None earlier than Julian Reese picking up his fourth foul mere seconds into the half on a play where he literally ran over Jaden Akins. Outside of that clear mistake, it did appear Maryland was seeking contact more in the second half and drawing fouls. Largely Michigan State responded and fought back.

The Spartans were struggling on offense and yet digging in on defense. Neither team could find much rhythm. Unfortunately, right as MSU found success with Jaden Akins, Jahmir Young started to heat up. Young hit a huge three when Mady Sissoko switched onto him and dropped off. How that matchup occurred is a mystery, as Young is too good to ever play drop coverage against.

By the end of the game, technically four players for Maryland scored, but it was really only two: Donta Scott and Jahmir Young. Scott put in 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. That rebounding kept Maryland in the game, and played into one of the Spartans most concerning weaknesses this year.

Young was a different issue all together. Young scored 31 points and was largely unstoppable. The good news was the Spartans kept basically everyone else - including a foul plagued Julian Reese - from contributing anything of note on offense. It’s never great when the Spartans let one player have a game like that. It does fit with izzo long standing approach that he’d rather have one guy go nuts and lock down everyone else, rather than over adjust his defensive approach and get burned all over the court.

It worked in this game. MSU held Marylnd to 31% shooting and only 23% from three. Any time you can hold an opponent to 54 total points, it’s a solid performance. The defense won this game for the Spartans.

Defense Grade: A-

Transition:

In the first few possessions the Spartans showed a commitment to running. It didn’t work the first time down, but the second time a steal led to an AJ Hoggard run out that he drew a foul on Maryland’s Julian Reese. It was an important development considering Mady Sissoko had an early foul battling the athletic Terrapin forward. A possession later early offense off a made Maryland basket drew a second foul on Reese. Running puts pressure on teams in more ways than just scoring.

The Spartans were able to keep running in spurts, but nothing was as impressive as a Coen Carr alley oop slam about midway through the first half. After a great steal, AJ Hoggard took a pass and dribbled towards the corner, turning back and lofting a ball to a streaking and unmarked Coen Carr for a highlight reel dunk.

Unfortunately, that dunk came right before a late in the shot clock three by Maryland followed by a steal for a layup and a forced bad shot by AJ Hoggard that led to an easy Terrapin basket. That 7-0 run sent Coen Carr to the bench and the starters back on the floor.

In the early second half Michigan State struggled to rebound and pass. The lack of rebounding limited fast break opportunities. The two opportunities they had in the first 10 minutes of the second half were short circuited by poor passing. The Spartans simply looked discombobulated coming out of half, and transition only works when you have things locked down.

At the 8-minute mark in the second half the game loosened up. Michigan State missed a three that Maryland turned into transition offense. That basket gave the Terrapins their first lead of the game, but it was short lived. Immediately, MSU pushed the ball up the court and rewarded a hustling Mady Sissoko with an alley oop dunk before the defense could get set.

While the transition game had a few notable moments, it was mostly a non-factor. MSU was credited with only 4 fast break points, despite having 7 steals. That ratio is not a great success rate. Maryland is notably one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten (if not the country). Still, the Spartans could have found more room to create faster offense in transition. This grade would have been worse if it were not for the transition defense the Spartans displayed.

Transition Grade: C+

Coaching:

Izzo clearly had his team ready to play this game. Playing the same opponent twice in less than two weeks can be tough. In this one, the team seemed to know to target Julian Reese and try to get him into foul trouble - something that worked and played a huge factor in the early going.

The one confusing choice early on was how quickly Izzo rotated through a few key lineups. It started with the second game in a row (at least) that Jaxon Kohler came in as the first backup at the four spot. It does seem like he has taken that role over from Coen Carr for the near future at least. Kohler played alongside: Cooper, Walker, Akins, and Holloman. This lineup built the lead to 9-points but was substituted out after less than 2:15 on the court together.

It was the type of planned substitution that drives portions of the fan base crazy. While the next lineup got Coen Carr on the court, it also saw Tre Holloman take a seat. That was a quick in and out for a player who is arguably emerging as the Spartans true “6th man”.

The first half rotation and calls were generally solid. Holloman played more in the final ten minutes and the use of Jaxon Kohler started to look like an emerging strategy that could work for the closing run of the season.

Strangely, the second half seemed to counter that prediction on Kohler. Coen Carr was first off the bench at the four-spot. This decision could have been as a safety against the eventual return of Julian Reese - if Izzo thought Kohler the better defender, or as simply a dedication to getting more time for Carr. Either way, it was a switch up of the approach in the first half.

The most concerning element of the second half was how out of sorts everyone on the Spartans looked. It looked like fatigue, even if that really doesn’t make sense for a well conditioned team playing a 5:30pm start home game. Whatever it was, the image of fatigue pervaded the first ten minutes of the second half.

Izzo rode the lineup of: Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Hall and Cooper for the closing stretch of the game. This lineup helped fuel a 14-5 run that gave MSU a 10-point lead with less than three minutes left. Cooper played one of his best games in recent memory and Hall was an absolute force on both ends of the court.

Izzo may not be able to ride those guys every game, but it worked in this one.

The overall approach to this game was solid. MSU did not over-adjust its defense to the play of Jahmir Young. Izzo will always choose to let one guy get his over pulling defenders away from their assignments. In the games where Michigan State gets killed, it’s usually because a less expected second or third scorer has a big game. When the opponent’s top scorer does what he does, it usually allows Michigan State to stick to the game plan.

Izzo feels like he is in standard february form: shortening his bench and preaching tough defense. This approach has led to late season runs in the past. Hopefully he can get more out of his bench than he did in this game, but for this game it still resulted in a solid win.

Coaching Grade: A-

Overall:

The Spartans fought the entire game. That is probably the most impressive part of their performance. They led for essentially the entire game, and the one lead for Maryland in the second half kicked off an MSU 14-5 run that put the game away. There was no back down in this team. Even when they were struggling to hold onto the ball, they kept fighting.

This is the type of gritty, senior led win MSU hoped would define their entire season. It’s a good sign for the coming February run to March.

On the downside, Michigan State still struggled to find shots. They were once again shy at the three point line, taking only 14 for the game (less than half the attempts Maryland put up). They balanced that with 30 points in the paint - a particularly impressive feat considering the centers (and Kohler - who is emerging as more of a 4-man) combined for only 8 of those points. At some point though, MSU will need the three pointer to keep pace with a higher scoring opponent.

The win was clearly aided by the absence of Julian Reese. The Marland forward was a non-factor due to fouls. That helped Michigan State but shouldn’t be held against them too much. This was a solid, well fought win that showed a level of grit that could carry the team forward. If the offense had been a bit more efficient, this overall grade would have been higher.

Overall Grade: B+

How do you grade Michigan State for this game?