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Five Observations: Michigan State opens Big Ten play with win at Minnesota

Victory for MSU! The Spartans are off on the right foot in conference play.

Michigan State is 1-0 in Big Ten play following a 75-67 win at Minnesota on Wednesday night. The Spartans built a lead as high as 19 points, but had to fend off a scrappy Golden Gophers squad to pull out the victory.

Michigan State played to its usual standard on the defensive end of the floor in the early-goings, as Minnesota opened the game just 3-of-16 from the floor in the game's first nine minutes. The Spartans built a 16-8 lead.

That set the tone of the first half for Michigan State, as they took a 37-24 lead into the locker room after the Golden Gophers shot just 30.3 percent from the floor in the opening frame.

The Spartans extended their lead to 46-28 in the opening three minutes of the second half, but Minnesota responded with a 9-2 spurt to cut their deficit to 11.

Michigan rebuilt its lead to 60-41 with nine and a half minutes to play, but the Golden Gophers had on final rally in them, cutting into the Spartans' lead with a 14-4 run over the next five minutes of play. Minnesota got as close as 73-67 with 32 seconds left, but Michigan State held on for its first Big Ten victory of the year.

1. Tyson Walker gets buckets

The transfer from Northeastern got off to a nice start for the Spartans in Minneapolis, scoring the first six points of the game for MSU. Despite picking up two fouls in the first half, Walker had nine points at the break. The junior point guard finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, adding 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Walker did have 4 turnovers, and Izzo will want him to clean that up, but this was maybe his best offensive game of the year.

2. Malik Hall -- sixth man or starter?

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Hall got a couple starts for Michigan State in the Bahamas during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, but Tom Izzo has since reinserted Joey Hauser back into the starting lineup. On Wednesday, Hall had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, with 9 rebounds, 4 assists.

Meanwhile, Hauser probably had his best game of the season tonight -- he knocked down a pair of threes and contributed 10 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. He's probably going to be the fifth starter going forward, with Hall taking on the sixth man role, but if Hauser reverts to the struggles we've seen, Hall is definitely ready to be an everyday starter.

3. Spartan scoring droughts allow for Minnesota rallies

It was a pretty balance scoring effort for MSU with five players scoring at least 9 points. It's good to have balance, but when the going gets tough offensively, the Spartans need a guy they can throw the ball to who can go get a needed bucket. Michigan State had trouble pulling themselves out of some scoring ruts in the second half tonight, and that can be scary in Big Ten play. Is there somebody who can develop into that "bucket-getter" when the Spartans really need it? Perhaps.

Gabe Brown knocked down a big corner three to end the Gophers' final rally, and he's been MSU's most consistent scorer this season. Max Christie, as he matures and gets more comfortable offensively, can be  a go-to scorer. Jaden Akins has shown good things at times offensively this season. Michigan State has options, but somebody has to step up and be "the guy" in late-game situations.

4. Spartans get hot from long range

Michigan State shot the ball about as well as we've seen this season, especially from long range. The Spartans went 10-of-21 on three-point shot attempts. Four starters and five players overall knocked down at least one deep shot for MSU. Entering the game, Minnesota's three-point defense was second-best in the nation, but the Spartans got open looks and knocked them down tonight.

5. MSU opens 1-0 in Big Ten play

Michigan State finished the 2020 season in ninth place in the Big Ten Conference. That's not anywhere close to good enough for this program, and everybody knows it. The Spartans got off to the start they needed in league play tonight, handing the Golden Gophers their first loss of the season in the process. Michigan State has been rugged defensively all season, and that's going to be something for the rest of the conference to contend with in 2021-22. This was probably the Spartans' best offensive effort of the year -- given the level of competition -- and that was great to see in their first Big Ten team. It remains to be seen if this MSU squad has enough firepower to contend for a Big Ten title, but they certainly look like a team that will finish higher than ninth in the standings this season.