Fresh off a soul-crushing overtime loss to James Madison on the opening night of the 2023-2024 men’s basketball season, Michigan State rediscovered its identity against Southern Indiana Thursday night.
MSU’s 74-51 triumph over the Screaming Eagles may not have healed all of the Spartans’ existing wounds from Monday night, but it was crucial in allowing them to settle into what they were made out to be in the offseason.
The Spartans played complimentary basketball for a majority of the game, tallying 21 assists on 25 made field goals and appearing much more disciplined defensively than they did against James Madison. It was an extremely balanced effort in which four Spartans reached double figures, led by graduate student guard Tyson Walker with 14.
Junior guard Jordan Tillmon recorded a team-high 10 points for the Screaming Eagles on just 4-for-14 shooting.
Michigan State sure played like a team that just lost its first Nov. home game in almost 40 years. Right off the bat, the Spartans’ intensity and sense of urgency was a step up from Monday night.
MSU instantly had control of the game with its assertiveness on both ends, taking a 37-14 lead into the locker room and holding Southern Indiana to 4-for-27 shooting in the first half.
Though MSU head coach Tom Izzo said there would “be some adjustments” and that he’s not afraid to allot more minutes to his promising freshmen after the Spartans’ historic loss to JMU, he rolled out the same starting five against Southern Indiana.
However, the five was subjected to change not even three minutes in, when Izzo subbed in freshman forward Xavier Booker and freshman guard Jeremy Fears Jr.
Booker, who entered the game to an ovation from the Breslin Center, fired up the crowd early with a block in transition, followed by a fast break jam by junior guard Jaden Akins.
The Spartans led 13-6 at the under-12 timeout in the first half following a post-fade conversion from Mady Sissoko, an encouraging sight for the MSU senior big man who struggled to hold his own against James Madison.
Izzo’s strategy was clear from the jump – tinker with the rotation and see which lineups gelled together. The Spartans rarely gave the scorer’s table a break in the first half with Izzo constantly making substitutions. As MSU extended its lead to 26-6 as part of a 16-0, it seemed to work as he had hoped.
As expected, Tillmon posed the most problems for MSU defensively. The Florida A&M transfer scored eight of USI’s first 11 points but never caught fire. That coupled with quick hands from the Spartan guards – particularly Akins – never let the Screaming Eagles get anything going on the offensive end.
Southern Indiana found its footing to start the second half, led by junior forward Jack Mielke, who nailed two straight from behind the arc to get the Screaming Eagles’ juices flowing.
But, MSU still led by 15 and stole the momentum right back thanks to flashes from its highly-touted freshmen. Booker scored back-to-back buckets – a dunk and a left-hand baby hook – followed by a converted jumper from the free-throw line by Fears.
From there, the Spartans finished on cruise control, winning 74-51 and improving to 1-1 on the young season.
Albeit against a team relatively new to the Division I landscape, Michigan State’s victory Thursday showed it has the ability to get out of its own way and respond to adversity.
It only gets tougher from here for the Spartans, who travel to Chicago on Nov. 14 to battle No. 2-ranked Duke in the annual StateFarm Champions Classic. In the first-ever matchup between Izzo – who’s 3-13 against the Blue Devils – and Duke head coach Jon Scheyer, MSU will face the opportunity to re-introduce itself to the nation.
MSU battles Duke on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the United Center in Chicago. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.
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