In a typical back-and-forth Big Ten battle in which the fate of the game boiled down to the final few seconds of play, Michigan State’s defensive proficiency is what kept them in the game, ultimately gifting them the 63-61 victory over Iowa.
In the presence of a team that averages 81.7 points per game, the Spartans knew they would need to hustle on the defensive end of the floor if they wanted to overcome the Hawkeyes and bounce back from their weekend in Bloomington.
In senior forward Malik Hall’s post injury debut, Hall made up for lost time on both ends of the floor, sending the crowd into hysteria when he entered the game. Hall’s versatility dazzled defensively, allowing his teammates to switch in and out more comfortably with his ability to efficiently guard a number of positions.
“If I had to pick a number one star it was Malik,” Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo said. “To do what he did with two days of practice and maybe a couple of walk-throughs last week.”
Izzo said he was hesitant to play Hall for as long as he did (24 minutes), but was impressed by his overall performance. It's clear Hall's presence made a difference on both ends of the court.
“Malik Hall brings some calmness to me,” Izzo said.
Iowa Junior forward Kris Murray was MSU’s primary focus heading into the game Thursday. The Spartan defense managed to hold Murray to 11 points, compared to his average of 21.3 points per game.
“Ulis had a good night, but I feel like we made Murray work hard for all his buckets that he got,” sophomore forward Jaden Akins said.
Iowa junior guard Ahron Ulis posed a problem for MSU’s defense by clinching a team-high 17 points and three assists.
“We couldn’t guard (Ahron) Ulis with a fishnet,” Izzo said. “That’s a little bit bothersome but what we did is we put A.J. (Hoggard) on (Kris) Murray which is an oddity for us so we changed things up a little bit.”
MSU will need to enhance their defensive adroitness in order to fend off No. 1 Purdue on Sunday afternoon.
Although junior center Mady Sissoko stunned the crowd with his double-double on Thursday night, he was a completely different player against junior center Zach Edey just a few weeks prior.
MSU will need to find other ways to make up for the lack of experience in the middle against the Boilermakers and 7-foot-4 Edey.
“We gotta make it tough for him all night," Akins said. "We are just going to have to play hard.”
Hall was out due to injury when MSU welcomed Purdue to the Breslin Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Day just a few weeks ago. Now that the Spartan lineup is whole again, Hall could be the lethal weapon MSU needs to split the series and upset the top ranked team in the nation.
MSU will wrap up its home-and-home series on the road against Purdue on Sunday afternoon. The game is set for 12:15 p.m.
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