Michigan State passed its prep test before a matchup with Duke next week
East Lansing - Michigan State's 125th team is finally in the win column. A dominant 74-51 win over the University of Southern Indiana Thursday night served as a much needed win and morale booster for the current #4 team in the country, with a matchup with the Duke Blue Devils looming.
The college basketball universe collectively raised its' brows after MSU dropped its opening game to tournament-hopeful James Madison, albeit a premature reaction (as it so often goes in today's "win every game" society). That James Madison team is a projected conference champion and nearly beat a stout Virginia team last season.
Southern Indiana, is not James Madison. The Screaming Eagles were an undersized and under-manned Ohio Valley Conference team hoping to have a shot a conference win. The highlight of their trip? Team pictures in East Lansing and an opportunity to suit up against the legendary Spartan Men's Basketball program. "I let them go out and take their pictures, and I stayed behind on the bus," Screaming Eagles coach Stan Gouard said postgame when reflecting on the teams trip to East Lansing.
Michigan State came out with the energy of a team who had just spent days having their heads ripped off by Tom Izzo, determined to erase the memory of a disappointing opening night. Facing a recently promoted SIU team, Sparty stifled its opponent, preventing a bucket for the first four minutes of game action.
Offensively, things began slower than expected for the Spartans against an inferior USI team, scoring only 15 points in the first 9 minutes of action.
MSU's senior frontcourt tandem of Malik Hall and Mady Sissoko were hunting shots and attacking the glass. Sissoko had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the year, and Malik Hall contributed 12pts/4reb/2ast on 50% shooting and 6/6 on ft's. A Mady Sissoko shimmy to a fadeaway in the first half was reminiscent of Hakeem Olajuwon and got the crowd going.
The defense, whether in transition, on-ball, or half-court situations, looked solid, although there were occasional lapses in interior defense, fortunately mitigated by effective rebounding. The Spartans forced 9 turnovers and held each Screaming Eagle to a negative plus-minus (impact on the games scoring) in first half game action.
MSU guards dictated the tempo, pushing the break and keeping SIU on their heels. In the half-court, USI's focus on mitigating Tyson Walker and potential shooting of MSU guards created open driving and entry-pass lanes all night long.
Balanced scoring was notable in Thursday's tilt. MSU had 4 of 5 starters in double figures, with Aj Hoggard being the lone Spartan to not reach the mark. Hoggard had a tough shooting night, going 2-7 from the field and missing his only 3-point attempt.
Jaden Akins continued his great rebounding to start the season, and got his offensive game working. Akins finished with 13pts/7reb/4stl/2ast. His step back crossover on the left baseline late in the 1st half, and later his one-handed slam in transition, were the two top plays of the night. His play will be paramount as a swing-man weapon in the starting lineup.
Speaking of step backs, MSU's highly-touted freshman class took a bit of a step back against USI. After being head coach Tom Izzo's favorite player in game 1, Coen Carr, the high-flying top-30 recruit, gave 3 points and 3 rebounds in over 16 minutes of game action.
Xavier Booker, Izzo's highest rated recruit in his hall of fame career, saw more game action in this contest and ended with 4 pts and 2 reb. Izzo has a focus on integrating Booker, but he knows the freshman must get stronger if he wants to have success at this level.
Booker missed multiple dunks against the outmatched Eagles. "Booker... he needs to get stronger," Izzo said in short when discussing the 5-star big-man from Indiana.
Izzo's other super-freshman, Jeremy Fears, contributed 5 assist and 2 steals in the contest, and Izzo postgame lamented, "Yes Jeremy does have leadership... 5 assist tonight."
3 Things I like:
Tom Izzo getting Xavier Booker more game action: Why Booker, who is a 5-star recruit with NBA Lottery goals, played only 5 minutes in their opening game, only Izzo knows. Whatever the case, the top-15 freshman was the 2nd off the bench Thursday night and played nearly 17 minutes and put up 5 shots, a few blocks, and lots of work. He will be very important to a team that lacks true offense from their big men.
Spartan effort: I lost count of how many times Spartan men hit the floor. Whether it was being chewed out by Izzo, or the team just taking it personal, the Spartans were energetic and went after loose balls and defensive matchups with hunger.
Tom Izzo not taking a play off: The guy is in his 28th season as the head of MSU Basketball. He's been to more Final Fours than anyone in the country. With his team playing an obviously lesser opponent, Izzo was as present as ever. Whether it was ripping his players performance or giving officials an ear full of his nicest words, Tom was fired up. You love to see the charisma from the 68 year old.
1 Thing I didn't like:
Second half production: MSU played to the level of Southern Indiana in the second half of Thursday's matchup. After outscoring the Screaming Eagles by 23 in the first half, MSU and USI tied 37-37 in second period of play. They were also outrebounded in the 2nd half. Were the Spartan men's hoops team looking forward to Duke on Tuesday night? Possibly. Will Duke expose State's lack of effort and rebounding in their Champion's Classic matchup? If MSU starts how they finished, absolutely.