Saturday, July 24, 2021

Preview: Spartan men's hoops to tackle Nittany Lions on Tuesday night

February 9, 2021
<p>Sophomore forward Malik Hall (25) shoots a basket during the game against Nebraska on Feb. 6, 2021, at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers, 66-56.</p>

Sophomore forward Malik Hall (25) shoots a basket during the game against Nebraska on Feb. 6, 2021, at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers, 66-56.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

The Michigan State men's basketball team is preparing for a quick turnaround after snapping their losing streak against Nebraska yet again.

The Spartans (9-7, 3-7 Big Ten) will take on the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-8, 4-7 Big Ten) Tuesday night at the Breslin Center in the second game of their three-game homestand. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

A look into the opponent

According to the KenPom, the Nittany Lions' 2020-21 schedule is currently the toughest men's hoops schedule in the country and the strongest recorded in the history of the KenPom.

The Nittany Lions are ranked at No. 30 in the KenPom ranking, one of nine Big Ten schools in the top 30.

Other than MSU, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska have been the only other schools to come off an athletic pause from COVID. Penn State has played eight games in 20 days since being back. The last time the Nittany Lions took the court was last Friday in a 55-50 win over Maryland.

Penn State made 31.5% of their attempted field goals, 21.7% on 3-pointers and 88.9% of their attempted free throws Friday night. So, the shooting woes could be a problem for PSU too.

Their game leaders against the Terrapins included guards Izaiah Brockington and Jamari Wheeler with 13 and 11 points, respectively, forward John Harrar with nine points and guard Myles Dread with eight points.

Wheeler had tied his Big Ten career-best with three 3-pointers and broke the second-half tie with a corner triple just before the shot clock expired, which fed into a 7-0 lead to help PSU pull away.

Guard Myreon Jones is their top scorer too, averaging 15.6 points per game. Harrar is the Nittany Lions top rebounder with 8.4 per game. He corralled 37 offensive rebounds in the last eight games for an average of 4.6 per game — Harrar ranks No. 7 nationally with an average of 3.73 on the season.

"Their kid Harrar, the big, strong kid that's just kind of gotten better each and every year, is kind of the glue to that team, and I say that because they have two players on that team that play their roles to the T," MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo said on Monday in a press conference. "Kid named Wheeler, the point guard, who's just great defensively, runs their team, and the big guy, Harrar, who's kind of my Draymond Green."

Wheeler is their assist leader, with 3.6 per game. He has 297 career assists and needs four more this season to top 200 assists total in Big Ten matchups.

Rewinding MSU hoops

After coughing up the ball 22 times on Saturday, the Spartans have a lot to catch up on if they want to remain on the right side of the scoreboard Tuesday night.

"The road gets tougher," Izzo said. "I think it's a great time of year for the road to get tougher for us."

Guard Joshua Langford and junior forward Aaron Henry have been on a hot streak as of late, scoring in double figures in each of the last three games. Langford has provided consistent offensive production for much of the year, and Henry has shown flashes of being one of the better wings in the Big Ten at times.

Henry, maybe surprisingly to MSU fans, is the only player in NCAA Division I basketball averaging at least 13.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.

Forward Joey Hauser fouled out of the last game against the Cornhuskers, remaining scoreless for the second time in his collegiate career — the last time being in 2019 when he was with Marquette. Forward Gabe Brown made a return and sparked MSU's offense off the bench with six points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes of action.

Forward Thomas Kithier, after leaving the game against Nebraska early feeling unwell, has continued to test negative for COVID-19 and participated in practice Monday, Izzo said.

MSU will look to bounce back after a lack-luster win over Big Ten bottom feeder Nebraska over the weekend.

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