Michigan State traveled to Champagne, Illinois to take on a top-ten team. They was defeated. The feisty Illini took the win 71-68 during the game that swung between two teams during the last 10 minutes. The loss is devastating for the Spartans since it means they fall to 9-7 overall, and unattractive 4-4 within the Big Ten.
However, despite the loss however, the Spartans did have some positives in their loss, which was a hard-fought one.
Information about the Game’s Curve: Illinois is ranked at the top of the list and plays the way it does. They might not possess the complete scoring power with out Terrence Shannon Jr. however, this team defends and fights offense with a ferocious intensity. Illinois has played like one of the best teams MSU has played this season and that’s saying something given the strength of the Spartans schedule. MSU is credited for this game when they are able to keep Illinois the offense at bay and also if they can come up with an offense.
The first offensive for the Spartans was characterized by futility. Each and every issue that has plagued the Spartans this year was apparent within the first four minutes. Mady Sissoko was able to get a nice glimpse of the ball on the first play but was blocked. Jaden Akins was given an open view for three during the transition phase and was bricked. Malik Hall had two looks at the basket. He was able to block one shot and then got blocked, and then was fouled during the third. If players can’t hit shots that are not open and the offensive style doesn’t matter.
The offense began scoring, but it was still looking difficult. The half court game for players from the Spartans caused everything to look a bit difficult. Everyone seemed hesitant to go towards the basket, as they appeared scared from Hawkins or Rodgers who were blocking shots. The three-point the line Illinois stopped every chance. There were a few chances for Tre Holloman to shoot from deep, but he snubbed on those chances. If Hall as well as Holloman were playing together It was like the nervousness was contagious.
It was a bit surprising that the Spartans were only down 28-26 with 5:10 remaining and a timeout imposed by Illinois. This is a testament to the capacity of the entire team to score, since six players scored buckets. It also goes to Tyson Walker’s ability lead a team that scored nine points in the early stages of the game.
After a rare opening timeout in which Tom Izzo calmed a 7-0 run by Illinois, Michigan State found an offensive rhythm. Utilizing a more aggressive approach in the interior as well as a strong defense, the Spartans came back by launching an 8-0 run to make it a one-point deficit. The half was halted by three following a foul against Tyson Walker, but the offensive team found something. The most troubling aspect was the amount of times that the Spartans missed the center. If they had had a higher shooting percentage in the basket then the Spartans would have been ahead at a half.
In the second half, MSU began hitting shots on the edge. The backcourt comprised of Akins, Walker and Hoggard began to find the ball and were assisted with the help of Malik Hall. The quartet led an unstoppable 20-5 run that lasted to the close of the first quarter. That run put the Spartans up 46-40.
The Spartans offense had cooled off after Jaden Akins as well as Tyson Walker sat. Coen Carr at three really stifles Michigan State. Also, add Tre Holloman not realizing he’s shot incredibly well, and the Spartans struggled to find a way to score. It required AJ Hoggard playing hero ball to score a bucket against the huge Illinois run.
After Akins as well as Walker were back on the field, Hoggard went to the bench to take a much-needed break. The team was a little out of its rhythm. Holloman has been a great player running the ball, but the offense on his half-court with Akins on top was unable to make players more open. Hall was unable to provide properly placed feeds, and Akins was left to shoot shots of balance from a deep.
Hoggard’s return on the floor was followed by a pivot in the offense. The backcourt of MSU began to drive and racking up buckets in the gruelling way to the edge. The plan was able to draw the team within three minutes with just three minutes remaining. A miss on an Akins three seemed like an important turning moment.
The tough defense and the gritty offense helped keep the game moving to the Spartans. Two big free throws made by AJ Hoggard pulled the Spartans within one with just under two minutes remaining. A remarkably strong post play from Malik Hall a possession later allowed the Spartans just one point away in just one minute.
If the game was fouling the game, the offensive team couldn’t provide. The game was which was won by just a few inches. Tyson Walker being forced to shoot an isolated three at the very top in order to finish it off looked like desperate. Watching AJ Hoggard launch an unorganized three in the last five seconds that might have been tied was predictable.
It was a strong effort all around by the Spartans but it was not enough. Four players with double figures is rarely enough. The most obvious weakness of the offense was the poor three point shooting. The team averaged 26 percent from three. Walker alone was one for seven. A few of those he missed would have made a crucial difference in the game.
Offense Grade: B+
Michigan State came out with an offensive alignment (see the coaching section) which was abused. Jaden Akins took Illinois nominal center Coleman Hawkins and the Spartans center, Sissoko and Cooper guarded their small forward (sometimes known as guard) 6’6″ Ty Rodgers. Rodgers is not a shooter from outside, rather he illuminated the center with quick shots into the basket. This was enough to push Illinois in a 8-2 advantage at the timeout for the first media.
The Spartans unconventional lineup options sucked their opponents for the first 10-minute game. Sissoko suffered a burn in a third shot by Rodgers while Hall allowed a long three to Hawkins. The second was especially disappointing because Hawkins took the shot because Hall was able to get under the screen and allowed the player a lot of time to finish the shot off. Hall is far too skilled and experienced to be able to pull off that (yes we’ve heard this before).
Ty Rodgers continued to make MSU pay for their game plan, scoring 12 points over the first 14 minutes of the game.
The defense allowed a golden chance to slip. The offense pushed the game out to an 28,26 Illinois lead, but then let Illinois score seven consecutive points. The offense fumbled some instances (and it was also a misplaced foul committed by Coleman Hawkins on a “steal”) however, the defense was unable to complete assignments, slowed down at the end of the game and was outrebounded.
For the second half to end, Michigan State found way to keep Illinois off the ball. The Illini began throwing shots far beyond the three point line but failing to hit. This enabled MSU to be back in the game at halftime. This was due to the Illini shooting less than 30% in the last 8 minutes of the game that balanced out an incredible opening shot of over 53 percent.
The second half began with a lot of physicality from Malik Hall. Malik Hall was defensively pressured as well as rebounding, and even a bit of offensive fire. Together with strong post stands of each Sissoko as well as Jaden Akins (yes you’re reading it correctly) and MSU had a tough time to the Illini to get going in the first half.
The defense was instrumental in launching the big run that opened the second half, and it helped in the way that Illinois hold it. In the absence of Walker and Akins at the sidelines, Illinois was able to make use of the mismatches. Coen Carr does not have the necessary defensive discipline to handle a lengthy distance defensively against a player such as this. It wasn’t his fault on his own but it was a component of the problem when Illinois gained the lead again halfway through the second period.
For the challenge Ty Rodgers gave the Spartans big players in the course of the game, Jaden Akins performed a excellent job of Coleman Hawkins. The most evident value of his performance was when Hawkins was not on the court. Hawkins took advantage of his absence to get an uncharacteristic five-point performance in the second half.
Then, MSU found ways to make stops. The stops were not enough. However, it was a strong defense on paper.
The Spartans kept Illinois just a bit below the season average in scoring. In the second half, particularly they came up with solutions to the mismatches that the Illini were causing in the first second half. In terms of statistically they slowed Illinois to just 33% of their three opponents – which could be beneficial when MSU had scored more than 26 percent. The effort was not sufficient to be better in the first half in particular.
Defense Grade: B
Transition was not working in the opening half. Illinois received four points from the fastbreak, which indicated that MSU struggled to return in the defensive zone a couple of times. The Spartans were given zero points on the fastbreak in the opening half. It’s a little false since there was some early offense that seemed more like a transition than half court play. But the Spartans struggled to stay ahead of Illinois. They Fighting Illini have experienced players who know how to thwart MSU’s preferred method of play.
The Spartans discovered several more opportunities to score transition baskets during the second period and helped them stay on the field. Every bit of help was appreciated as Tre Holloman spotted some occasions to feed players during transition. One highlight reel clip featured Holloman throwing the ball up to an erupting Coen Carr, who then was able to throw it down with a hefty. In the later half Holloman saw Walker moving towards the basket, and fed him for a fantastic drive to the basket as well as stunning layup while in the traffic.
In the time that it was clear that the Spartans offense was launching shots from the rim, and defense was putting up stoppages in half courts, the transition defense was really harmed. AJ Hoggard was the worst offenders, but he was not the only one exhausted and not getting his momentum back. This let Illinois to score some needed points while maintaining the slim lead.
The transition was the area where this game went down. Half court offense and defense for both teams were so well-matched that the minuscule margin Illinois gained during transition was sufficient to hang for victory. Illinois’s endurance and discipline kept the Spartans to a minimum during the transition. They must find ways to get past that in order to win games like this one.
Transition Grade: D
The Illinois’s center of the game, Coleman Hawkins, clearly the Michigan State coaching staff concerned prior to the game. Hawkins is a big and strong player who can hit from the outside. To counter this, MSU took a page from Purdue’s playbook and added Jaden Akins in his defensive spot. Akins sacrifices a significant amount of height but can follow Hawkins in the three-point line. This required Mady Sissoko to take on the small forward Ty Rodgers, who largely can’t shoot from the outside. The issue was that Rodgers utilized the speed of his game to get Cooper and Sissoko and Cooper in the early stages of.
The method of Hawkins was the basis of MSU’s strategy from the beginning. Even the time Akins was sitting, Hall moved onto Hawkins but still sacrificed significant height. The only advantage to Hall being moved to Hawkins was that it showed the hot side of the fifth-year senior at MSU. Sometimes that is actually beneficial for the Spartans.
The matchup choice was a reflection of the sense that MSU was still rotating players and was in search of something. At the timeout of 12 minutes, MSU had played 8 players including Jaxon Kohler – who was the third center and the Fourth center (Sissoko played two times) of the nascent game of the Spartans. The game was rough to the Spartans.
One noteworthy rotation change to one of the Spartans included Coen Carr. The athletic freshman was rotated into the fourth spot. For at least an entire game initial selection of a disappointing sophomore Xavier Booker as Malik Hall’s primary backup player was over. Carr immediately responded to Izzo’s trust by getting an offensive rebound and preventing a layup transition.
Despite a quick rotating trigger and a quick trigger for a rotation, the Spartans were able to come within two at the end of the second half. After that, Illinois went on a 7-0 streak. Izzo did call a half-timeout. It could be to make a complaint about an uncalled call, but whatever it was, it was a way to stop certain Illinois momentum. Izzo has been repeatedly criticised for not doing that but it was nice to witness that happen time and time again.
When they came out of the timeout After the timeout, the Spartans were able to get back in the match. An 8-0 run got the Spartans to within one point, but Tyson Walker picked up his second foul. Izzo made a few choices in his defensive lineup, but Izzo also hit his buttons in the correct direction to create enough offense to keep pace with.
The second half started off with the Spartans start off with enthusiasm but they slowed down significantly. The slowdown was due to Tyson Walker getting whip kicked (and being cited for the offence in some way) and then having to be sat. Michigan State simply didn’t have an solution.
When Illinois increased the lead to 59:52 during the timeout of 8 minutes during the second period, Izzo tried something different to call Mady Sissoko’s phone number. This is a strategy Izzo enjoys in these circumstances, and when his team is struggling, he starts taking Sissoko as an offensive alternative. It worked and also gave the Spartans an extra boost of confidence.
Izzo has found ways to inspire his team’s veterans during the game. After the team struggled together against Northwestern in the previous game, they were able to carry the offense and the defense. Even Mady Sissoko played a great game, scoring nine defensive rebounding (10 in total).
Michigan State at its best could have found this match difficult. Illinois is just so good this season. Izzo played with a variety of matchups that were creative and rotated as many times as was possible to ensure his backcourt was fresh and hit his buttons in order to make the contest in a tight spot. If the shooting was marginally more efficient than the Spartans the result would be different.
Michigan State had runs in this game in which they played great basketball. There were also times in which they were outplayed. They are fortunate that they didn’t suffer a prolonged collapse. One of the closest that Spartans were to collapse was thwarted by a quick (and uncommon) first-half timeout by Tom Izzo.
The offense struggled with three-point shooting, but they found success driving into the rim over and over and. AJ Hoggard found another gear today and helped the offense to tick. Malik Hall snapped out of his slump and scored 14 points and seven rebounds, four of which were offensive. The issue was on shooting outside. Four players with double figures is an impressive effort. There could have been at the very least two players with at or above 20 points if they had been shooting well from three.
On defense, the Spartans struggled defensively. Although Jaden Akins was able to put together a solid effort in defending the larger Coleman Hawkins, the team in general was often running. However, they kept Illinois at a level that was well in the middle of their scoring.
The result was the loss. The loss should be graded more. However, the Spartans performed well, followed an effective game plan and were just a few points away from winning a road game against a team in the top ten. It was a great effort.