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Michigan State basketball: The great, good, bad, and ugly from Rutgers win

Michigan State picked up a huge win on Thursday.

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Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Here are the great, good, bad, and ugly from a fairly stress-free Michigan State basketball win over No. 23 Rutgers.

Michigan State basketball was able to halt its Big Ten losing skid at just two games, beating No. 23 Rutgers at home on Thursday night, 70-57.

Even though Rutgers has never won at Breslin, the Scarlet Knights were not to be taken lightly. Winners of seven of their last eight and sporting the third-best defense in the country with a defensive efficiency of .842, the Scarlet Knights would give Michigan State everything it had.

The Scarlet Knights came out of the gate swinging thanks to a cold, sloppy start for the Spartans. After some subbing adjustments, MSU righted the ship and ended up taking a 36-30 lead into halftime. Taking the momentum from the latter portion of the first half into the second, Michigan State did not look back, never trailing and coming away with a 13-point win.

Propelled from one of the most balanced, red-hot offenses this season, along with stifling defense, limiting Rutgers to just 11 percent from three, Michigan State moves back into a two-way tie (with Rutgers) for second place in the Big Ten.

Here are the great, good, bad, and ugly from a fairly stress-free Michigan State win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Great: Balanced scoring

One week ago, the Spartans lost to Illinois in a game in which they only shot seven 3-pointers, missing all seven. While this was clearly a one off performance/game plan, it failed miserably. For Thursday night’s game against Rutgers, Michigan State went the complete opposite direction and rained 3-pointers all night. Connecting on 55 percent of its threes, 12-for-22, Michigan State poured it on against the No. 3 defense in the country.

Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser, Jaden Akins, and even A.J. Hoggard splashed three 3-pointers each, equating for almost half the Spartans’ points.

Michigan State used the confidence of shooting over 50 percent from deep inside the arc as well. Spreading the wealth around offensively, MSU had five players scoring in double figures. This balanced attack is quite different than previous games. In recent losses, the Spartans had just one or two players scoring the majority of their points — Hoggard with 20 against Illinois and Tyson Walker with 30 against Purdue.

Having a well-balanced, superstar-less offensive squad can lead to vast scoring droughts, but when played correctly, is extremely effective and difficult to defend.

It’s not expected that the Spartans to continue shooting almost 55 percent from deep, nor is it expected to go 0-for-7 or even 6-for-19 as MSU did against Purdue earlier in the week. Splitting the difference, however, and having four to five different players contributing offensively will be the difference for this team.

Good: Freshman play

Going with the normal starters against the Scarlet Knights, Michigan State opened the game sloppy and quickly found itself trailing 11-3. Being that the game was being played at home, it didn’t quite feel like the Spartans were out of it yet, but something needed to be done to stop the bleeding. Izzo made the move around the 16-minute mark to go with a different, younger rotation.

In subbed Pierre Brooks, Jaxon Kohler, and a minute later, Tre Holloman.

The veterans were not ready to play, so Izzo brought in the freshmen and, subsequently, put an end to the lopsided start. Over the next four minutes, Michigan State rattled off a 14-5 run, taking the lead 17-16 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Because of this success, the freshman lineup carried over into much of the second half.

The biggest contributor out of the freshman trio was Kohler. Having the best game of his young career thus far, Kohler finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and one assist. Between his post moves and turn around jumpers, everything was working for Jaxon against Rutgers. Fans were able to watch his confidence grow in real time, eventually leading to a failed heat check 3-point attempt, his first of the season. What’s more, Kohler’s defense was visibly better than previous matchups. Going against one of only two big men who average a double-double in the Big Ten, Jaxon held his own. The future is very bright for the young big man, who just notched his first career double-double.

While Brooks had another lackluster performance, Holloman’s game should not be overlooked by Kohler’s outbreak. Holloman’s stats will not pop off the stat sheet, but he had some great finds for his three assists. Looking more comfortable and under control each week, Holloman will be a nice depth chart asset come March.

Bad: Free throw opportunities

In a game that had the Spartan guards red-hot offensively, and Kohler providing such an impact down low, it’s difficult to find areas of concern. With that being said, one aspect that you wish to improve on is the free throw opportunities. Shooting just 13 attempts per game from the charity stripe, MSU had even less than their season average against Rutgers. Michigan State shot just seven free throws, albeit making six of them.

The number of attempts is extremely low, but what is more concerning is that six of those seven attempts came from Hoggard. Zero free throw attempts from the Spartan centers and forwards is not a formula for success.

As has been the message all season long, Michigan State basketball must find a way to get their big men to the line, for offensive opportunities as well as putting their opponents in a difficult situation resulting from foul trouble for their centers.

Ugly: Rebounding

Michigan State’s rebounding on Thursday night was one of the worst performances I have seen in quite some time. While defensive rebounds were fairly even from both teams, Rutgers with 24 and MSU with 28, the Scarlet Knights had three times the offensive boards the Spartans did, 18-6. Time and time again, Michigan State gave up second-chance opportunities.

What’s possibly worse is Rutgers out-rebounded MSU from each position.

Rutgers’ guards came away with 16 total rebounds, while their forwards and centers had 21. Neither Michigan State’s guards nor their big men were able to get a body on the opponent, leading to 15 second-chance points. MSU was lucky the Scarlet Knights were not able to convert on more opportunities.

Tom Izzo mentioned after the game that being out-rebounded might have been a good thing, as practice for Michigan State basketball will now emphasize the basics of boxing out.

Writer and contributor for Spartan Shadows. Tyler Dutton, a graduate of Michigan State, is a college and professional basketball specialist with over four years of experience writing on both the Spartans and Pistons.

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