Michigan State opened up its Thanksgiving week tournament with a shorthanded loss to Alabama. Here are three takeaways from the game:
Shorthanded team, strange lineups
This is the gamble Tom Izzo took when he opted to field a smaller roster and not supplement it via the transfer portal: a couple of injuries and Michigan State would be hard-pressed to fill those 200 minutes necessary on the box score.
The fact that Michigan State at one point fielded a lineup of Tyson Walker, Tre Holloman, Jason Whitens, Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper shows how tough just getting through Thursday’s game was with Jaden Akins and Malik Hall out due to injury. The Spartans needed 36 minutes from Tyson Walker, 34 from AJ Hoggard and 34 from Pierre Brooks to do it.
Those minutes seemed to take their toll. For as good as Walker was, he didn’t score in the final 7:19 of the game, missing the only shot he took. The Spartans also had little fast break to speak of. It won’t get any easier with three games in four days, either.
But give credit to the Michigan State players who could suit up: they fought hard and made a strong showing given the circumstances. They just didn’t have enough given the circumstances.
It was hard enough with two of Michigan State’s top six players out. Having two ore starters contribute little may have been too much to overcome.
Mady Sissoko has come back down to earth after two standout games against Gonzaga and Kentucky. He scored four points against Alabama a game after recording just one against Villanova. Teams had little film to scout him with early, but now seem better at denying him shots around the basket and removing him from the Spartans’ offense.
Joey Hauser was simply off with 1-for-6 shooting and five turnovers – although he hit 7-for-8 free throws. He made several ill-advised perimeter passes that are unlike him and couldn’t find his rhythm shooting. A steady presence through Michigan State’s first four games, the Spartans will have to hope that’s a one-game blip.
Some valuable experience
If there’s a silver lining to Michigan State’s injury situation, it’s that some players who might have normally seen little playing time vs. Alabama instead saw a lot, and their development will undoubtedly benefit as a result.
Michigan State’s three freshmen – Jaxon Kohler, Tre Holloman and Carson Cooper – all played season-high minutes. And all played reasonably well: Kohler finally flashed a bit of that low-post scoring ability as he went for six points and seven rebounds, Holloman played a turnover-free 14 minutes with two made shots and Cooper had two blocks in 12 minutes.
Those performances made it an encouraging night for Michigan State’s future, even if it was a tough one for the team’s present.