Friday evening, Michigan State basketball capped off its (oftentimes hectic) final two months of 2022 with an 89-68 win over Buffalo.
While a team from the Mid-American Conference isn’t the best measuring stick for one of the better programs in the Big Ten, there were certainly some interesting aspects of MSU’s 21-point victory over the Bulls of Buffalo.
Malik Hall made his presence known
If you just tuned in for the 12:37 minutes that senior forward Malik Hall played against Buffalo, you would’ve sworn he was still in the starting rotation.
However, it’s been a while since Hall has even seen in-game action. Missing multiple weeks due to a stress fracture in his left foot, it wasn’t quite clear how Hall would look when he finally returned to the lineup.
Though his minutes were limited, Hall looked impressive in his return to the court. He finished with 11 points (nine of those scored in the first half), scoring in the paint, beyond the arc and from the free throw line.
“It wasn’t just that he made some shots,” Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo said. “He communicated, he threw some passes. He brings a calmness.”
Perhaps most importantly, he wasn’t afraid to attack the basket. Oftentimes, a player coming off an injury will be a bit shy around the rim, afraid to get physical for fear of worsening or reaggravating the injury. However, it was business as usual when Hall entered the paint. In fact, he went to the line four times and was not afraid to take a foul near the basket.
As long as the injury continues to mend as it should, Hall should see his minutes increase very quickly. He looks hungry to get back to where he was in November.
A good showing from the bench
Michigan State’s bench had a good night against Buffalo. The bench notched 38 points in the night, with players from across the board finding their way to the scoring sheet. Again, conclusions taken from a victory over an opponent like Buffalo should be taken with a grain of salt, but it should comfort fans to know that their unit has the capability to show up, if need be.
The aforementioned Hall was the best of the group, scoring nine points in the first half alone. However, it wasn’t just former starters getting active against the Bulls.
Freshman guard Tre Holloman notched seven points on the evening, playing a total of 17 minutes through the night. That stat line doesn’t really pop off the scoring sheet, but Holloman isn’t a player that appears on it much.
In fact, his seven points against Buffalo is a career-high – mind you, he’s a freshman with just over 10 games under his belt. Typically, he’s asked to do off-ball work, play strong defense and distribute the ball when it’s in his hands. However, he showed some intriguing glimpses against Buffalo Friday night.
“He’s very athletic, guards well,” Izzo said. “He has not turned the ball over much, and that’s really good.”
After the game, Izzo even gave some love to sophomore guard Pierre Brooks, whose defense he’s criticized all season.
“I thought Pierre Brooks actually played better,” Izzo said. “He actually made some plays, made some nice passes.”
Brooks finished with eight points, a pair of rebounds and an assist.
Finally driving to the basket
There have been times throughout the season when Michigan State just does not drive to the basket. That’s especially true in games against less intimidating opponents. In their last two games, the Spartans went to the line a total of 22 times, six of those against Brown and 16 against Oakland.
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Much to the delight of Izzo, that was not the case against Buffalo. The Spartans went to the line a season-high thirty times against the Bulls. Unsurprisingly, that was a point of emphasis in practice leading up to Friday night’s game.
“We spend a lot of time trying to be more aggressive,” Izzo said. “That was a point of emphasis.”
While Michigan State didn’t shoot particularly well from the line at 21-30, any points were helpful on a night where the offense was choppy at times.
The Big Ten schedule is shaping up to be brutal this season. There will be plenty of evenings where, because of general choppiness or a strong showing from opposing defenses, the offense just can’t find a good rhythm.
However, if Michigan State can consistently earn free throws by driving straight to the rim as they did against Buffalo, it’ll go a long way in ensuring those rough nights from the offense don’t always result in a loss.
Michigan State’s first game of the new year is scheduled for Tuesday evening, where MSU will return to Big Ten play by hosting the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center.
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