Michigan State opened its Thanksgiving Weekly Tournament shorthanded against Alabama. Here are three takeaways from the game:
Understaffed team, strange lineups
This is the gamble Tom Izzo took when he decided to field a smaller roster and not add to it via the transfer portal: A couple of injuries and Michigan State would struggle to fill the 200 minutes left for the box score are required.
The fact that Michigan State fielded a lineup of Tyson Walker, Tre Holloman, Jason Whitens, Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper at one point shows how difficult it was to get through Thursday’s game with Jaden Akins and Malik Hall injured failed. It took the Spartans 36 minutes from Tyson Walker, 34 from AJ Hoggard and 34 from Pierre Brooks.
Those minutes seemed to be taking their toll. As good as Walker was, he didn’t score at the final 7:19 of the game and missed the only shot he made. The Spartans also had few quick breaks to speak of. It doesn’t get any easier with three games in four days either.
But trust the Michigan State players who could keep up: they fought hard and put in a strong performance given the circumstances. They just didn’t have enough given the circumstances.
Fight in the forecourt
It was hard enough that two of Michigan State’s top six players dropped out. That two ore starters add little might have been too much to overcome.
Mady Sissoko has come back to earth after two outstanding games against Gonzaga and Kentucky. He scored four points against Alabama in one game after recording just one against Villanova. Teams had little footage to spot him early on, but now they seem better at denying him shots around the basket and removing him from the Spartans’ offense.
Joey Hauser was simply gone with a 1:6 shooting and five turnovers – although he hit 7:8 free throws. He made several ill-advised perimeter passes unlike him and couldn’t find his shooting rhythm. The Spartans are a consistent presence in Michigan State’s first four games and have to hope this is a one-game slip.
Some valuable experiences
If there’s a silver lining to Michigan State’s injury record, it’s that some players who typically saw little play time against Alabama saw a lot instead, and their development will undoubtedly benefit.
Michigan State’s three freshmen — Jaxon Kohler, Tre Holloman and Carson Cooper — all played best minutes of the season. And they all played quite well: Kohler finally flashed a little of his low-post scoring ability as he scored six points and seven rebounds, Holloman played 14 minutes without turnover with two shots made, and Cooper had two blocks in 12 minutes.
Those performances made it an encouraging night for Michigan State’s future, even if it was difficult for the team’s present.