It started with the combined efforts of Jaden Akins and Tyson Walker in defending USC’s leading scorer Boogie Ellis. The Trojan senior was limited to six points on 3-of-12 shooting with three turnovers.
Meanwhile, A.J. Hoggard and Malik Hall did a nice job against USC’s Drew Peterson as well. A 6-foot-9 guard, Peterson is a matchup concern for most lineups, but the Spartans had an answer with Hoggard and Hall. Peterson scored five points early in the game, but finished with just 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
Michigan State held USC to 41.4% from the floor and 35% from the three-point line for the game. The Spartans had seven steals as a team, led by three from Akins. This is the kind of defense that the Spartans were playing through most of this season prior to mid-February, and the type of effort we need to continue to see if MSU is to advance in the tournament.
2.) Balanced scoring for Spartans
Four players scored in double figures today for MSU, led by 17 points from Joey Hauser. The graduate senior has had a remarkable season for the Spartans. He entered this game shooting better than 46% from 3-point range, and he knocked down 4-of-6 attempts from deep today, and added eight rebounds.
Akins and Walker each scored 12 points for Michigan State, while Hoggard added 11. Hall had six points, Mady Sissoko had four and freshmen Tre Holloman and Jaxon Kohler each had two.
Michigan State is at its best when the ball is moving and multiple guys are involved. That’s exactly what the Spartans did today.
3.) Carson Cooper provides valuable minutes
When freshman center Carson Cooper signed his letter of intent late in the 2022 recruiting cycle, the immediate thought was that the 6-foot-11 big man would redshirt this season.
Ten months later, Cooper gave head coach Tom Izzo really good minutes off the bench in an NCAA Tournament game.
Cooper’s box score numbers weren’t eye-popping — he finished with six points and four rebounds — but his impact went well beyond the box score. The freshman was really good on the defensive end, protecting the rim, and provided some juice to the Spartans bench with back-to-back slam dunks on a pair of second half possessions.
While he hasn’t played a ton of minutes this season, Cooper is way ahead of schedule in his development. This kid could turn out to be a hidden gem from the 2022 class.
4.) Free throw woes…
Michigan State was the best free throw shooting team in the Big Ten this season, but the Spartans had a concerning stretch of misses from the charity stripe down the stretch in this one.
MSU missed four consecutive free throws at one point, and went just 5-for-10 at the line in the game’s final two minutes, and shot 15-for-25 for the game.
Fortunately for the Spartans, USC had several bad offensive possessions following those missed free throws (credit Michigan State’s defense for that as well) and the Trojans never really made MSU sweat despite the missed freebie’s at the foul line.