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Michigan State Basketball: Good, great, bad, and ugly from Minnesota loss

Guess where the free throws land?

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Michigan State basketball
© Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball dropped another disappointing game on Tuesday night, this time at the hands of the Golden Gophers.

Michigan State basketball is firmly in a stretch where every game counts in continuing their tournament streak. That makes the Spartans’ game on Tuesday night against Minnesota double as frustrating.

Not only was it a game MSU can barely afford to drop, but the fashion in which they did it was terrible.

Michigan State found itself down early, battling the crowd, but still took a five-point lead into halftime. The second half was more on the Spartans’ side, and they would open up a nine-point lead with 12 minutes remaining. It slowly began to slip away, and MSU came away with a loss that is likely to stay with them for quite some time. 

Here are the good, great, bad, and ugly from MSU’s loss against Minnesota on Tuesday night. 

Good: One-two punch of Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins

Jaden Akins has now put together great performances in three out of his last four games, and a string of above average games over this second half of the season. Tuesday night, Akins finished with 16 points, and was a great 4-for-7 from deep. Outside of his 14 percent performance from deep over the weekend, Akins is connecting at an above average rate from 3-point range, playing as was expected to start the season. He was 6-of-11 from the field, while also having three rebounds, two assists, and one blocked shot. He was getting it done all over the court, especially when no one not named Tyson Walker had anything going most of the night. 

Speaking of Tyson, he once again had it going for the Spartans.

Night in and night out, Walker has been incredible this year for Tom Izzo. So much so that it’s a much larger story if he doesn’t finish with 15-plus as opposed to if he does. In fact, Walker just surpassed Kalin Lucas for the longest consecutive streak scoring in double-digits with 34. Almost a year ago to the day, Walker scored 12 points, and hasn’t scored in single-digits ever since. He is Mr. Reliable and MSU felt that when he went out briefly with his injury. The tides quickly turned when Walker hobbled down into the locker room, and MSU’s offense didn’t get back on track until he returned. 

Great: Nothing (pessimistic, I know)

Michigan State basketball had a good stretch of ball to finish the first half, and then again to begin the second. Outside of that, however, they truly did not do anything that was spectacular. To begin the game, the Spartans struggled against the momentum and crowd. To finish the night, their offense went cold and defense became nonexistent. It wasn’t their worst game of the season, but there definitely wasn’t much to be happy about on Tuesday night. Instead, let’s enjoy Akins’ and Walker’s good nights. 

Bad: Guard defense

How does 19, 31, 18, and 28 sound? These are the points guards have finished with against State over their last four games. Michigan State has had a number of guards put up career numbers against them this season. Tuesday night was just the latest that Michigan State basketball has allowed a guard to take over the game.

Cam Christie was absolutely lights out, even more so than the box score shows. He would finish 5-for-7 from deep and Michigan State had no answer for the freshman.

Going back to the numbers, Jahmir Young torched MSU for 31 over the weekend. Jaelin Llewellyn got hot from deep and finished with 18 for Michigan last week. AJ Storr had 28 for Wisconsin last week. Guard play dominates March Madness. If Michigan State is to fight its way into the tournament, the Spartans have to clean up their guard defense. In March, having someone as on fire as Christie was Tuesday night will put an end to their season. 

Ugly: Free Throws

Michigan State had a number of chances to put this game away. As mentioned, it had a nine-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining, but even when Minnesota began to surge, the Spartans could have put a stop to the bleeding at the free throw line. Yet they did not.

As a team, Michigan State shot just 41 percent from the charity stripe, which is embarrassing. Minnesota is a below average free throw shooting team normally, but they put on a clinic compared to MSU on Tuesday night. Even Minnesota’s Pharrel Payne shot 58 percent from the line, and going into the game last night, he was shooting just 38 percent. 

Admittedly, the free throw miscues were not due to the entire team. AJ Hoggard, Tyson, and Xavier Booker all fared well at the line, but where the Spartans struggled was with Malik Hall, Carson Cooper, and Coen Carr. They were a collective 1-for-10 from the free throw line, half of the misses came at crunch time. Even half of those would change the outcome, and Izzo needs to make sure the time, effort and emphasis is put on the basics such as free throws. 

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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