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MSU men's basketball's slow start in exhibition loss to No. 9 Tennessee offers team learning

October 30, 2023
<p>Graduate student forward Malik Hall (25) taking a jump-shot during a game against Tennessee at the Breslin Student Events Center on Oct. 29, 2023. Hall would finish the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Spartans narrowly lost 89-88.</p>

Graduate student forward Malik Hall (25) taking a jump-shot during a game against Tennessee at the Breslin Student Events Center on Oct. 29, 2023. Hall would finish the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Spartans narrowly lost 89-88.

Exhibition games are built to be a learning experience for everyone involved. Players, coaches, referees — everybody has something they can take out of an exhibition game.

Michigan State men’s basketball’s high-intensity exhibition game against No. 9 Tennessee felt a more like a late-March tournament battle rather than a game with no stakes. The game came down to the very last second when the Volunteers pulled ahead by one point for an 89-88 victory over the Spartans.

“Now there were some good things,” head coach Tom Izzo said following the game. “And there were some things that really bothered me a lot.”

The Spartans were down 17-1 after the first five minutes of play, and the outcome was looking grim for MSU. But the team was able to pull within three points going into the locker room at the half.

Izzo said after the game that the slow start, while not encouraging in the moment, allowed an impressive near comeback—something the team could look at in a positive light.

“It's a good thing, and it was really good for our players,” Izzo said. “You know my philosophy around here — it's good to get punched in the mouth. Because I thought we did early … and I didn't think we’d come back.”

Graduate student forward Malik Hall agreed with Izzo that the early deficit was a “punch in the mouth,” but there was still something for the younger players to learn from that moment; it was even easier to learn from it because the results didn't count.

“I think the teaching point was more just like, you can't start off that way if you want to win,” Hall said. “If we don’t start off that way and we go on the runs that we did, we win that game by a pretty decent amount, in my opinion. I was just stressing on that, because, I mean, if you want to win championships, you can’t start off behind every single game — especially good games — when we're playing good teams like that.”

Michigan State seemed like two completely different teams in the first five minutes to the remaining 35 minutes.

Despite the loss, the MSU squad's resilience was a promising display for the season moving forward. If not for the abysmal start, the second-half Spartan team looked like they could've gone toe-to-toe with the top teams in the country and come out on top.

“Maybe there's a positive in there,” Izzo said. “After we were down 17, we probably went and scored 87 points in 34, 35 minutes. That's pretty good, and a positive against a team that's good defensively.”

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