Michigan State basketball got its first Big Ten win of the season on Thursday against Penn State. And they did it in commanding fashion.
Michigan State basketball had not started the Big Ten season as many had hoped and expected. Their season was off to a rough start, to say the least. On Thursday night, however, MSU continued its play of late and took it to the Nittany Lions.
From the jump, Michigan State had control. The Spartan offense was humming, and their defense was stifling. Powered by a career-high from Malik Hall, 24 points, and great play from both Tyson Walker and Tre Holloman, MSU would take a comfortable lead into the half. They did not waste much time in the second as they powered through a slightly sloppy start to the second half. They would eventually really open the game up, and come away with an impressive 92-61 win.
Let’s jump into the good, great, bad, and ugly from the Spartans’ first Big Ten win of the year.
Good: Mady Sissoko on the boards and AJ Hoggard from deep
As mentioned above, Malik Hall had a career night in points per game. Mady Sissoko also had a career night but on the boards. Sissoko would finish the evening with 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on the defensive end. Eliminating Penn State from extra opportunities ensured that they were not able to get into any sort of groove offensively. Sissoko was doing work down low and deserves to be recognized.
There has been a lot to say surrounding his offensive skillset, even in this article later on, but in games like this one, he makes up for it.
AJ Hoggard did not set any new career marks, but what he did do was continue his upward trajectory as a perimeter threat. Hoggard has never been known as a knockdown shooter from deep but has continuously forced defenders to respect him outside more and more. Thursday night was a continuation of that, as he went 2-for-4 from deep. Six of his 10 points came from beyond the arc.
We know that Hoggard can get into the lane, play a little bully-ball, and finish at the rim. Adding a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal opens this offense in a number of ways, and we’ve seen their success in this recent winning streak.
Great: Tre Holloman
During Thursday night’s game, Tre Holloman was really good. Did he top the stat book in any regard? No, but what we have seen from him over the last two months has been superb. You can consider this section as an overall Holloman appreciation post.
Holloman was coveted as a recruit and showed average potential in his limited time as a freshman, but this year has been different. Sophomore Holloman is on a different playing field than his freshman self. The most obvious improvement this season has been his 3-point shooting. Tre is leading the team in 3-point percentage at 42. But the most promising part of his play this season, for me, has been his ability to command the offense calmly but effectively. He is getting to the basket with confidence and can finish around the rim with Cassius Winston-like difficulty.
With Jeremy Fears going down over Christmas break, Holloman will likely fully command the backup point guard minutes. And he has done nothing but impress me this season thus far. He is taking pressure off AJ Hoggard, while also providing offensive firepower from deep. I mentioned Cassius Winston earlier, and I feel as though they have a similar career trajectory. Both were great offensively in high school. I remember saying during their freshman years that if they were the future of Michigan State point guards, we would be in trouble. Cash developed tremendously and wound up becoming one of the greatest Michigan State point guards in school history. Tre has taken a similar, necessary step in his first and second years.
The future is extremely bright at the point guard position for Michigan State basketball.
Is this reaching and nitpicking for a team that’s won six in a row? Possibly. But to be honest, this is now six games in a row where the Spartans didn’t have any major glaring issues they’ve had to overcome. One thing that does stand out on the box score is the amount of times that Penn State was at the line and the lack thereof for Michigan State basketball. The Nittany Lions had 11 more free throw attempts, 23 to 12. While Michigan State needs to get to the line much more than just 12 times, more on the offensive post play in a minute, allowing Penn State to try and climb out of the deficit from the charity stripe was not ideal.
You never truly got the feeling that Penn State was going to make any sort of run, but if you’re Penn State, that’s the recipe to do so. Their three was not falling, just 10 percent on the night as a team, so break up the momentum of the game, put the Spartans in foul trouble, and chip away at their lead one free throw attempt at a time. Michigan State will have to clean this up a bit as it continues through Big Ten play.
Ugly: Offensive production down low
The Spartans’ offense on Thursday night was clearly working. They passed the ball well, shot well from the perimeter, and drove in the lane effectively. If there was one aspect that I felt MSU’s offense lacked, it was a post presence on the offensive end.
The trio of Mady Sissoko, Xavier Booker, and Carson Cooper finished with just five, five, and zero points, respectively. And three of Booker’s points came from beyond the arc as time was expiring. You never truly felt as though Michigan State was able to get any sort of production from down low. It was apparent that Cooper’s time was going to be limited as the game got out of control, likely to afford more developmental minutes for Booker, but the point remains. Sissoko continued his lack of post moves, and Booker was, again, all around lost and pushed around.
Now, there wasn’t much need for a post presence as the Spartans still won by 30. It’s more concerning that even in a blowout, we didn’t get some Sissoko practice post moves, or maybe a glance at what Booker can become in the paint if he is ever going to play the five. The guards have been playing outstanding the last six games, so the need for post offense hasn’t been apparent. But if the guards go back to having an off night, offensively, the big guys down low will need to pick up the slack.
Hopefully the nearing return of Jaxon Kohler can help with that.
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