On a day when Michigan State wasn't at its best, the Spartans scored on its final possession to earn a 63-61 victory over Loyola-Chicago in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
With the game tied at 61 with under 15 seconds remaining, Spartan coach Tom Izzo called timeout and drew up a pick-and-roll for point guard Tyson Waker and center Marcus Bingham Jr.
Michigan State got the defensive switch they wanted, Walker drove the lane and lobbed to Bingham Jr. for the game-winning alley-oop slam.
The Spartans have won four in a row following their season-opening loss to then-No. 3 Kansas.
Michigan State did not surrender a basket for the first six and a half minutes of play, jumping to a 9-0 lead. Marcus Bingham Jr. led the defensive effort for the Spartans with 3 blocks in the early-goings.
However, once again the turnover bug bit Michigan State in the first half, as the Spartans went into a scoring drought to allow the Ramblers to settle in. Loyola-Chicago took its first lead of the game, 18-17, with 6:45 remaining in the first half.
In total, the Ramblers outscored Michigan State 16-11 in the final 8 minutes of the opening frame to take a 28-23 lead into the locker room.
Loyola-Chicago scored the first two baskets of the second half to build its largest lead of the game, 32-23, with 19:12 left to play. But the Spartans came roaring back, putting together 16-5 run led by the efforts of Gabe Brown and Malik Hall to take a 39-37 edge with 13 minutes left.
The game was a dogfight from there, as the two teams traded blows and the lead. In the end, Michigan State found a way to pull out the victory.
1. Joey Hauser benched, Malik Hall starts
Izzo switched up his starting lineup for this game, benching redshirt senior Joey Hauser in favor of junior Malik Hall. The move was something of a surprise, but probably shouldn't have been. Hauser has struggled with his shot this season and hasn't really lived up to his billing since transferring to East Lansing from Marquette.
In his first start of the year, Hall was dazzling. The junior scored 24 points on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Hall supplemented his incredible scoring effort with 7 rebounds and an assist. Hauser, meanwhile, scored 4 points on 1-of-2 shooting and added 6 rebounds in limited minutes. It's safe to assume that Hall will be in the starting lineup moving forward, and we'll see what role Hauser takes on moving forward.
2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
We're becoming a broken record on this issue, but it needs to be said: Michigan State is undisciplined with the basketball on a nightly basis. The Spartans have had turnover issues for years now, and it's no different at the start of this season. Michigan State had a ridiculous 14 turnovers in the first half today, and finished the game with 20. The Spartans won't be competitive in the Big Ten if they continue to give away possessions like this. They don't have the offensive firepower to overcome all these wasted possessions. Tom Izzo has to get this cleaned up, or Michigan State is in for another losing record in conference play.
3. Marcus Bingham Jr. looks like an All-Big Ten defender
Bingham Jr. has been Michigan State's best player through the first five games of this season. The senior was a terror for the Ramblers on the defensive end of the floor, swatting 7 blocked shots and adding 9 rebounds and 2 steal for the Spartans. Offensively, Bingham Jr. scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Izzo has done an excellent coaching job here, getting his senior center to buy in to his role as a low post scorer and defender. If Bingham Jr. continues to play like this throughout the season, he will be an All-Big Ten honoree and find himself on the conference's All-Defensive team.
4. Backcourt woes continue
Michigan State is still trying to find answers in its backcourt. Freshman Max Christie has all the tools to be a future star, but he's still adjusting to the college game. The 5-star prospect was held to 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting, though he did add 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Sophomore AJ Hoggard, meanwhile, really struggled today, converting 1-of-8 shot attempts for 3 points, and he also had 5 turnovers against 3 assists. Izzo has asked Tyson Walker to be more aggressive on the offensive end, and the grad transfer did knock down a pair of three-pointers, but it wasn't an efficient performance from the senior. Walker finished with 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting, adding 4 assists against 4 turnovers. Izzo needs to find answers in his backcourt, and soon. The belief is that Christie will quickly develop into a reliable scorer, but Walker and/or Hoggard need to play better running the point. Michigan State's success will be limited without better guard play moving forward.