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MSU men’s basketball picks up fifth straight win, first in Big Ten play with 31-point beatdown of Penn State

January 5, 2024
<p>Coach Tom Izzo speaking with his team during a game against Baylor University at the Little Caesar’s Arena on Dec. 16, 2023. The Spartans would defeat No. 6 ranked Baylor 88-64.</p>

Coach Tom Izzo speaking with his team during a game against Baylor University at the Little Caesar’s Arena on Dec. 16, 2023. The Spartans would defeat No. 6 ranked Baylor 88-64.

Ever since Michigan State’s men’s basketball team’s 77-70 loss at Nebraska on Dec. 10 to drop to 0-2 in conference play, the Spartans have played like an entirely different team. 

That trend started with a much-needed win against then-No. 6 Baylor in Detroit, followed by a string of satisfactory triumphs at home over the holiday break. It continued into Thursday night, when the Spartans took down Penn State in dominating fashion, 92-61, for their fifth consecutive victory and first in Big Ten play.

Now at 9-5 and playing their best basketball of the season, MSU and head coach Tom Izzo are close to where they want to be entering the non-stop conference gauntlet following an underwhelming 4-5 start.

Playing in front of its “Izzone” alumni, Michigan State had its way with Penn State from a turnover standpoint, grabbing 13 steals — 11 in the first half — and turning the Nittany Lions over 16 times for a total of 24 points on the other end. Graduate guard Tyson Walker notched six steals on his own. 

“They beat us up. They took the ball out of our hands,” PSU head coach Mike Rhoades said of MSU Thursday night. “Walker took the ball from our guys around the basket and other guys, and we weren’t strong on drives… Coach Izzo’s teams collapse on the ball and really make you pay if you’re not strong.”

After the Nebraska loss, Izzo’s primary focus was bringing this team back to the roots of MSU basketball: defend, rebound, and run. The Spartans executed that to a tee against Baylor, giving them the confidence to continue it throughout the holiday homestand. 

Still, Izzo said that he’s looking for more out of his team on the glass. 

“If there’s been an improvement in this team, our defense has helped us get our break going,” Izzo said. “Now, the only thing left is to do a better job rebounding the ball because we’re not rebounding like a Michigan State team, and part of that is we’re not as big as most Michigan State teams, especially on the perimeter, but we’ve got to improve in that area.”

Another key component to MSU’s revitalized success has been enhanced production from its veteran core. Graduate forward Malik Hall along with guards A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins struggled to start the season in a variety of ways, most notably in their shooting splits. They stormed back in the back half of December and again on Thursday night, all three reaching double figures with Hall setting a career-high of 24 points. 

While a sizeable chunk of Walker’s 22 points came in the second half, he was crucial in setting the tone early for the Spartans by nabbing steals and turning them into points. 

“Those steals and what [Walker] creates is amazing,” Izzo said. “I mean, he just gets his hands on a lot of stuff. That got our fast-break going. Fast-break is when we’re at our best.”

At 9-5, the Spartans aren’t where they wanted to be coming into the season. However, given their lackluster start, they’re in a solid position in the current up-and-down landscape of college basketball.

“You look around the country and we had our lull early and a couple injuries and other teams are going through it,” Izzo said. 

Michigan State will now look to earn its second conference win in 72 hours against Northwestern, traveling on the road for the first time in three weeks. The Wildcats, led by veteran guard Boo Buie, downed No. 1 Purdue in early December. 

MSU and Northwestern tips off on Sunday, Jan. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Evanston, Illinois.

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