Michigan State men's basketball's second game of the 2023-2024 season against Southern Indiana looks a lot different after Monday night when the No. 4-ranked Spartans were shocked by James Madison University in overtime to open the year.
It was MSU's first November home loss since 1986.
Now, with the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles on the clock, the Spartans have a chance to rebound. In order to do so, they will have to manage better than 23-for-40 at the free throw line and 1-for-20 from behind the arc.
After Monday's early-season stunner in the college basketball world, head coach Tom Izzo said his team will also need to dig deeper in terms of its intensity.
"I hope they respond by being ticked off," Izzo said. "I hope they respond by playing a little harder, more physical, and I don't know what to say about the free throws. I harp on it every day, and they have shot well from the line in practice. It just happened."
MSU's veteran core struggled a great deal Monday night. Senior guard AJ Hoggard, junior guard Jaden Akins and graduate student forward Malik Hall combined to shoot just 6-for-33 from the field.
Despite dropping 35 points, Izzo reiterated in his postgame press conference that graduate student guard Tyson Walker was also off his game. As for the heralded freshman class, Izzo said forward Coen Carr stood out as a spark plug yet again.
"We had a couple of guys that I thought played very poorly," Izzo said. "About the only guy I thought played well was Coen (Carr), and he played awfully well. I don’t have a good answer why three juniors and seniors played like they played, but I also don't care because I'll play some freshmen. Let the controversy begin."
It'll be interesting to see how the rotation plays out in the future, especially after Monday's result, and if freshmen like Carr, Jeremy Fears Jr. or Xavier Booker will step into larger roles in place of seasoned veterans.
"There will be some adjustments," Izzo said. "We didn't show much leadership."
Monday showed that Walker, down the stretch, is still MSU's main man. Outside of struggling at the charity stripe, he did just about everything to keep the Spartans in the game. However, the loss also showed that it'll take more than just Walker to win games down the road.
Izzo said he doesn't have an answer as to who will step up in the number-two spot.
"You hope AJ would be a guy," Izzo said. "You'd hope Jaden would mature into that guy, and I really thought Malik would, and tonight, after a great week of practice, he just didn't."
MSU, still with 31 games to play featuring the usual Big Ten gauntlet, has all the opportunities it needs to make Monday's loss a dim memory come March. Nonetheless, Izzo said the reality check has set in heading into Thursday night.
"Ugly. It's gonna be ugly," Izzo said when asked about the next few days of practice. "Guys are gonna practice. There's too much load management and worry about sports science and this and that. That's out the door."
Scouting Southern Indiana
Led by head coach Stan Gouard, Southern Indiana is beginning its second season in Division I, winning 16 games in its first.
The Screaming Eagles lost 75-63 to St. Louis in their opening action Monday night. Lead guard Jordan Tillmon, a transfer from Florida A&M, posted a team-high 15 points and will present a challenge for the Spartans on both ends with tremendous quickness.
Southern Indiana lost its top six scorers from a season ago, headlined by Isaiah Swope, who transferred to Indiana State. Swope and the Sycamores will visit East Lansing on Dec. 30.
The Screaming Eagles will need their new faces to step up, which starts with Tillmon. They aren't nearly as solid a team as James Madison but they can cause problems for any team that lets them do so.
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MSU's historic loss against JMU didn't come down to any nuances – the Dukes outplayed and out-toughed the Spartans for the majority of the game. Look for Southern Indiana to follow that blueprint.
The Spartans and Screaming Eagles tip off at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Breslin Center.
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