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Preview: MSU men's hoops set for home conference opener against Penn State

December 11, 2021
<p>Former MSU player Cassius Winston (5) goes for a lay-up in the final moments of a basketball game against Penn State at the Breslin Center on Feb. 4, 2020. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 70-75.</p>

Former MSU player Cassius Winston (5) goes for a lay-up in the final moments of a basketball game against Penn State at the Breslin Center on Feb. 4, 2020. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 70-75.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

After notching their first Big Ten win on the road, Michigan State men’s basketball is set to take on Penn State in their conference home opener. 

The Spartans are 39-9 all-time against the Nittany Lions, with their last meeting on Feb. 9 resulting in a slim 60-58 MSU victory. 

In their previous game against Minnesota, Michigan State (8-2, 1-0) led for virtually the entire affair and built upon improvements seen in the Louisville and Toledo games to turn in one of their strongest nights of the year. Although the Gophers rallied in the final minutes, the Spartans did more than enough to hand Minnesota their first loss of the year and left Minneapolis 1-0 in the Big Ten. 

The contest marked one of junior guard Tyson Walker’s most successful outings yet with 15 points and five rebounds. Walker said his game was a byproduct of feeling more “comfortable” in the offense with his shot selection and passing abilities. 

The Spartans also utilized strong performances from senior forward Gabe Brown and junior forward Malik Hall to dash away from the Gophers. And, as a whole, Michigan State has continued their vastly improved three-point shooting and limited turnovers while maintaining the defense that has earned early acclaim. 

Brown said Michigan State’s rigorous non-conference schedule prepared them for the challenge of opening conference play in a raucous road environment. 

“I mean, that’s why you come to Michigan State,” Brown said. “You come to Michigan State to play the best. Coach put the best out there (and) for us to play them early, just to see where we at, helps us a long way.”

Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo added that their schedule has also shown them how they match up against varying offenses and defenses and cited the value in that experience. 

“We’ve played teams that can shoot it, we’ve played teams that pound it inside, we’ve played teams that will play different defenses,” Izzo said. “I think we’re ready for everything.” 

In their first season under Head Coach Micah Shrewsbury, Penn State (5-4, 0-1) has found success in their rebuild by leaning on their veterans. Junior forward Seth Lundy and senior guards Sam Sessoms and Jalen Pickett all average in the double digits and are among the Nittany Lions' most versatile talents. 

“We’re running into teams right now that are old, a good old,” Izzo said. 

Senior forward John Harrar is the man in the middle for Penn State, averaging a double-double with 10.9 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. Harrar entered the transfer portal following the 2020-21 campaign and received interest from Michigan State but he’s been a consistent force in his return to Happy Valley. 

While Penn State hasn’t played nearly as tough a schedule as Michigan State, Izzo said he’s concerned by the variety of defensive coverages the Nittany Lions have utilized this season. But, like Michigan State, they’ve also struggled to control the ball early with 13.7 turnovers per game. 

Tipoff is at 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network. 

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