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

Ugly was the theme on Thursday night.

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Michigan State basketball
© Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe closer than expected, but Michigan State basketball got a win at home on Thursday. What were the good, great, bad, and ugly?

It wasn’t pretty for Michigan State basketball on Thursday night against Minnesota. This entire season, in fact, has not been very pretty. And yet, the Spartans got it done in their third conference win of the year.

Fueled by a good crowd, Michigan State opened the game with a 7-0 run, eventually jumping out to a 9-2 lead. Minnesota would fight back throughout the first half, keeping it close and MSU eventually would take just a five-point lead into halftime. The Gophers actually tied MSU shortly into the second half, but thanks to a Tyson Walker take-over as the game began to come to an end, the Spartans held off the Gophers, 76-66.

Michigan State moves to 3-4 in Big Ten play with important upcoming games against Maryland and current Big Ten No. 1 seed Wisconsin.

So what were the good, great, bad, and ugly from Michigan State’s win at home against Minnesota?

Good: Malik Hall

Originally, I had the good for MSU’s game against Minnesota revolving around the high rate that the Spartans shared the basketball. Michigan State assisted on 20-of-29 field goals against the Gophers, and the passing was on point for Tom Izzo’s guys. I made a last-minute change, however, and wanted to highlight Malik Hall. He has been extremely up and down this year, and for his entire MSU career to be honest. We have seen what he is capable of, which makes it all the more frustrating when he underperforms.

Hall was fantastic on Thursday night.

MSU went to the veteran on the first play of the game, and he did not shy away after that. Hall’s explosion to the basket and subsequent poster on a Minnesota defender got the crowd on its feet. 

Hall finished Thursday night with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. With his 16 points, Hall officially surpassed 1,000 career points in his MSU career, a moment that was extremely special for him and his parents in attendance. It’s no secret that Hall can, and is, the X-factor for this team. A run at the end of the season could truly be solely based on how the veteran plays. Keep it up, Malik. 

Great: Defensive pressure

Minnesota was without their starting point guard, Elijah Hawkins, thanks to an ankle injury. Hawkins leads the country in assists, and facilitates the Gopher offense. Without him, Minnesota had to rely heavily on others to take care of the ball, and Michigan State basketball pounced at the opportunity. Jaden Akins, AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Jaxon Kohler, Coen Carr, and Tre Holloman all were credited with at least one steal, with AJ and Tyson having multiple. Michigan State made life on the Gophers extremely difficult, and finished the night with nine steals in total.

Steals aside, Michigan State also did a great job with its pressure to create turnovers consistently. Only finishing with five for themselves, Michigan State forced Minnesota into 19 turnovers. 

This is not to say Michigan State was perfect on defense. Mike Mitchell hit a trio of threes, and Dawson Garcia still got his. But, oftentimes on the opposite end of the turnover battle, Michigan State did a great job with the defensive pressure. The Spartans took advantage of some early foul trouble for Minnesota, and really applied the pressure to guys who wouldn’t normally have to handle the rock as often as they did. 

Bad: Free throws

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Michigan State struggled from the line on Thursday night. Not only were the Spartans struggling to get to the line before the fouls began to pile up, but they struggled to convert once there. As a team, the Spartans finished 15-for-23 from the charity stripe. That’s just 65 percent from the line. That cannot be the case moving forward.

Mady Sissoko was the largest offender missing from the line on Thursday. The senior big man went just 3-for-8 against Minnesota. Normally an 80 percent free throw shooter, if Sissoko hits even three more and finishes around his season average with 6-for-8, Michigan State wins more soundly, and their game percentage increases to almost 80.

Outside of Sissoko, the majority of Michigan State players performed well at the free throw line. It’s unfortunate that their center was the biggest offender in terms of missing from the line, but based on his season averages, I would consider it more of an outlier. 

Ugly: Field goal percentage within 1-3 feet of the basket

One of the most frustrating parts of Michigan State’s game on Thursday was its success rate directly around the rim. Time and time again, MSU missed what would be considered bunnies. Whether it was a guard getting through the lane and attempting to finish at the basket, or a big grabbing a rebound and putting it back up, Michigan State struggled to convert right below the rim.

These missed opportunities from high percentage shots kept the Gophers in the game for far too long. 

The Spartans did not shoot the three-ball well against Minnesota on Thursday. Just 25 percent from three on the night for MSU. When it isn’t falling from long range, you absolutely have to capitalize around the rim. Between beneath the basket and at the free throw line, Michigan State basketball left a lot of points out there on Thursday night.  

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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