Michigan State stepped onto the court for the first time as the 2022-23 team on Tuesday night when it pulled it together to defeat Grand Valley State after a questionable first half.
The 73-56 victory wasn't pretty, but MSU was able to get the job done and leave some clues on what to expect from this team.
1. Need to be a first half team
Luckily, MSU managed to redeem itself after a difficult first half against the Division II Lakers. The second half was much more entertaining to watch with less turnovers and a higher field goal percentage throughout.
Michigan State shot just 47.1% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc in the first half, although Grand Valley State shot just marginally better: 51.6% from the field and 37.5% from three.
Grand Valley State returned from the half worn down, ready to accept defeat. However, the chances of this in the coming games are slim to none.
MSU needs to be able to capitalize on both sides of the court for the full 40 minutes.
The exhibition is as telling as it gets about the team early on in the season and their ability to withstand powerhouse opponents on both sides of the floor.
“Coach was disappointed honestly and he had the right to be,” senior forward Malik Hall said. “We didn’t play to our potential and we didn’t respect our opponents as much as we should have. Moving forward, we need to put a higher value on us.”
2. Freshman bring the fire
Head Coach Tom Izzo was able to rotate through the roster and get some new faces on the court for the very first time. Freshmen forward Jaxon Kohler and guard Tre Holloman showed out for their team, bringing the necessary heat that the Spartan squad desperately needed.
“I think Tre Holloman and Jaxon Kohler brought some energy,” Izzo said. “Tre brought a lot of energy at the point, putting pressure on them.”
Although Holloman went 0-2 from the field and was held scoreless, he recorded three rebounds and three assists while also looking competent defensively.
Holloman got exposure to the one, but once sophomore guard Jaden Akins returns it's uncertain how many minutes Holloman will get along with Kohler, who's expected to get his feet wet at the five.
“I think they both brought a spark that we really needed from the starting group,” Hall said. “Our energy just wasn’t there and they both came out and brought a little bit of life into the game. When you see young guys come out there, have that excitement and that thrill, it will make you play a little bit harder.”
With the shortened rotation, it’s likely these freshmen will get more experience than they would with a typical lineup. Both are thrilled to be on the court, exhibition or not.
“After all this training, all this pain of working hard, late hours and all the work to finally be put in the situation of a Big Ten school like this, it doesn’t matter if it’s an exhibition or a playoff game, it was a sigh of relief," Kohler said. "I'm here now. Let's go to work and show everybody who I am. I’m a freshman but I want to make my name known from the get-go.”
Kohler played 12 minutes, scored six points and grabbed five rebounds, one block and one steal.
3. Where’s the team chemistry?
With the shrunken rotation, it seems MSU is trying to figure out where everyone fits best. Coming off the exhibition, it might take a few more weeks to get a clear perception of Izzo’s ideal rotation and who meshes best with who.
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Izzo’s starting five were junior guard A.J. Hoggard, senior guard Tyson Walker, senior forward Malik Hall, graduate student forward Joey Hauser and junior center Mady Sissoko. Once Akins returns from his leave, this could look a bit different.
Hoggard and Walker displayed that aspired chemistry, working well together up front at the one and the two.
Izzo said the lack of depth hurt the team but none of that matters if he doesn’t have “tough players”
“Players play, tough players win,” Izzo said. “We had more talent than Grand Valley, they played tougher. It’s simple.”
Izzo said he needs to be mindful of the schedule ahead. He gave credit to Grand Valley State for bringing zeal and giving the Spartans a run for their money.
“I think bouncing back says a little something, but I probably haven't given enough credit to Grand Valley,” Izzo said. “They made some shots too and Chinedu Kingsley Okanu really played well. He played physical, he played hard, he took it right to us. We went against some seven footers in Tennessee who didn’t do that.”
MSU’s got a lot to think about before next week when the game counts for real against Northern Arizona on Monday Nov. 7.
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