5 Observations: Michigan State defeats Mississippi State to advance in NCAA Tournament

5 Observations: Michigan State defeats Mississippi State to advance in NCAA Tournament

Michigan State men’s basketball is off and running in the NCAA Tournament, as the Spartans played some of their best basketball of the entire season in a 69-51 win over Mississippi State in first round of ‘the Big Dance’.

The Spartans came out red hot in this one, connecting on eight of their first 11 shot attempts, including four 3-pointers against one of the best perimeter defenses in the country. MSU built a 20-8 lead through the first nine minutes of the game.

After Mississippi State forced several turnovers and scored the game’s next seven points to close to within five, the Spartans settled back in on the offensive end behind the guard trio of A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins. Michigan State sandwiched a pair of layups from Hoggard and Walker around an Akins’ triple, and rebuilt its lead to 29-18 with just under three minutes left in the half.

Mississippi State’s Josh Hubbard hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Bulldogs close, but Malik Hall closed the first half with a floater off-glass to give the Spartans a 31-24 lead heading into their locker room.

Outside of a couple ugly turnovers from Hoggard early in the second half, Michigan State was dialed in again to start the frame. The Spartans outscored Mississippi State 12-5 in the first four minutes of the half for their largest lead of the game, 43-29. The Bulldogs did all they could to try to stay close the rest of the way, but Michigan State remained in complete control the rest of the way and wore Mississippi State down. The Spartans built a lead as large as 18 points when Davis Smith, son of MSU legend Steve Smith, hit a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down on Michigan State’s final possession.

Michigan State advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive time. The Spartans are highly-likely to face the West region’s No. 1 seed, North Carolina, in the Round of 32. It will be a tall task for Michigan State, as the Tar Heels will have a homecourt advantage with the game being played in Charlotte. But first, here are five takeaways from today’s win…

1.) Sharing the rock

Michigan State’s ball movement was outstanding today, and it started from the opening tip. The Spartans first eight baskets all came off an assist, and that was a trend which would continue for the rest of the game. As a team, MSU totaled 14 assists on 27 made baskets this afternoon. The result of that ball movement was one of the Spartans’ best shooting performances of the season, as they shot 50% for the game.

Hoggard turned the ball over too many times today, but he made up for it by leading the team with eight assists. Walker handed out a pair of assists, while Carson Cooper, Mady Sissoko, Tre Holloman and Steven Izzo all had one, with Izzo’s coming on that final triple from Smith.

2.) Let the 3-ball fly

Mississippi State had one of the best perimeter defensive teams in the country, and the Bulldogs were proficient at limiting opponents’ 3-point baskets. Michigan State didn’t care about any of that, however, as they shot the ball with confidence throughout the afternoon and went 10-of-23 from long range (43.5%).

Walker and Akins led the way here for the Spartans, with the fifth-year senior going 3-for-6 from deep and the junior hitting on 3-of-8 attempts. Hoggard, Holloman, Smith and Xavier Booker each added one triple each for the Spartans. Michigan State is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the country, but doesn’t shoot as many as they ought to. There’s balance to everything, but the Spartans should let the ball fly more in this NCAA Tournament, and if they connect at the clip they did today, this team becomes dangerous.

3.) Three Spartans in double-figures

As has been the case most of the season, Walker led Michigan State in scoring with 19 points, and the fifth-year senior was steady and efficient throughout the afternoon, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor. We got what we expected from Walker, but Akins’ game was the one that should have Spartan fans excited. The junior scored 15 points and played with the confidence Izzo has been trying to instill in him over these last several weeks. Akins had MSU’s most shot attempts with 14, converting six into baskets.

Finally, while it wasn’t a banner day for Malik Hall, the fifth-year senior did reach double-figures with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Mississippi State’s size in the frontcourt made this a tougher matchup for Hall, but he did enough to make an impact. Hoggard had eight points for the Spartans, while Holloman and Booker each added five.

4.) Uncharacteristic turnovers

About the only thing Michigan State didn’t do well at the offensive end was take care of the basketball. Mississippi State is a tough, defensive squad, but many of the Spartans’ turnovers today were just careless. Michigan State came into the game averaging just 10 giveaways per game, third-best in the Big Ten, but the Spartans coughed it up a whopping 16 times against the Bulldogs. What’s worse is that it was two of MSU’s most experienced players who were the biggest culprits — seniors Hoggard and Hall each had five turnovers. Holloman also had a pair of giveaways when he misfired on a couple lob attempts to Coen Carr.

MSU was able to overcome the miscues with how well they shot the ball today, but they’ll need to clean those up as they advance to the next round. Fortunately, for most of the year, this has been one of Izzo’s best teams at taking care of the ball, so today’s turnovers may be more of a blip on the radar than any cause for concern.

5.) Defense and Rebounding

Probably the biggest matchup concern for Michigan State coming into this game was Mississippi State’s propensity for offensive rebounds. The Spartans have struggled to secure the defensive glass through much of this season, but they were solid in that department today.

For the game, Michigan State won the rebounding battle 35-29, and while the Spartans did give up 13 offensive rebounds, the majority of those came late in the game with MSU leading by double-digits. For the second consecutive game, Sissoko had a strong day on the glass with nine rebounds. Akins grabbed seven rebounds, while Hall added five.

That effort on the glass was part of an excellent defensive effort for Michigan State, which held Mississippi State to 37% shooting from the floor and 6-of-27 (22.2%) from the 3-point line. This was a vintage effort from the Tom Izzo-coached Spartans, and it has MSU headed to the second round.

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