Michigan State rode a dominant first half performance to an easy 92-61 victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions. Led by a career night from forward Malik Hall, the Spartans outscored Penn State 51-25 before halftime and never looked back.
First Half Blitz Buries Nittany Lions
The Spartans wasted no time seizing control, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the opening minutes. Penn State struggled mightily to generate any offense, missing 12 of their first 14 shots. Meanwhile, Michigan State was red hot, hitting over 60% of their attempts in the first half, including 9 of 16 from deep. The Spartans featured excellent ball movement all night, tallying 23 assists on 34 made field goals.
Hall was the catalyst on both ends, scoring 24 points on nearly perfect 11-12 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds. His previous career high was 22. The junior had struggled to find consistency this year but appeared plenty comfortable against the overmatched Nittany Lion defense.
Spartan Scoring Leaders
Spartan guard A.J. Hoggard also excelled distributing the ball, racking up 10 assists. His penetration collapsed the Nittany Lion defense and set up open looks for his teammates all night. Hoggard added 15 points of his own for a double-double.
The onslaught was constant throughout the half as Tom Izzo’s squad connected on six straight attempts to open up a 19 point advantage. Penn State eventually showed signs of life with an 8-0 run to cut it to 11, but Michigan State closed the frame with a 10-3 spurt to take a 26 point edge into the locker room.
Second Half Maintains Intensity
If Penn State hoped to mount a comeback in the second half, those thoughts were quickly dashed. Michigan State continued their energetic brand of basketball, opening up the first 8 minutes on a 20-11 tear. The lead ballooned to 32 as the Breslin Center crowd roared their approval.
Izzo praised his team’s intensity coming out of halftime: “We talked about stomping on their throat to start the second half. I loved how we continued to share the ball.”
With the game firmly in hand, both coaches turned to their reserves for the final 10 minutes. Penn State was finally able to slow Michigan State’s offense, but far too late to prevent the lopsided final margin.
Guard Jalen Pickett led the hapless Nittany Lion offense with 14 points on 4-13 shooting. Leading scorer Seth Lundy netted only 2 points, overwhelmed by the Spartan’s aggressive, swarming defense. As a team Penn State shot a dismal 34% for the game. They simply had no answers for Michigan State’s multitude of scoring threats.
Izzo tried to keep expectations reasonable, remarking “It was a great performance but we aren’t going to shoot like that every night. We need to stay hungry.” Still, it had to be encouraging seeing his talented squad put all the elements together after failing to meet preseason expectations. The Spartans will face another struggling squad in Minnesota next, providing an opportunity to build momentum heading into a brutal Big Ten slate.
Troubling Signs for Penn State
First year coach Mike Rhoades now owns a paltry 3-10 record in true road games since taking over the program. Their normally stout defense had no solutions for Michigan State’s crisp passing and spacing. Players appeared frustrated and disjointed for long stretches as the game slipped away in the first half.
There remain concerns about Penn State’s offensive capabilities coming into Big Ten play. While tonight’s output represented a season worst, the Nittany Lions have struggle to score consistently against power conference foes. Their best offensive performance came against a dismal Butler squad that sits near the bottom of the Big East standings.
Penn State hopes to right the ship on January 7th at home against a beatable Iowa club. They’ll need much stronger performances defensively and on the glass to compete with the elite teams in the Big Ten this year. Lundy in particular must regain his early season form.
For now, the loss of standout Jalen Pickett to graduation continues to haunt the Nittany Lions. Coach Rhoades has yet to effectively replace his playmaking prowess and has instead doubled down on grinding out low possession victories. That approach appears unlikely to garner much success in the treacherous Big Ten without a talent boost.
Outlook Going Forward
Last year’s inflamed rivalry saw 4 overtime periods split between their two matchups. However tonight illustrated the apparent gap between these clubs, with Michigan State’s wealth of weapons overwhelming Penn State at every turn. The win moved the rising Spartans one step closer toward a potential NCAA tournament bid while the reeling Nittany Lions are left searching for answers in a so far disappointing season.
Michigan State Outlook
With the victory, Michigan State moves to 2-1 in conference play as they try to establish consistency after an erratic non-conference performance. The talented Spartans hoped to contend for the Big Ten title this year but must first regain their formidable home court advantage.
Matchups with Minnesota and Ohio State loom next week as coach Izzo hopes to have his group peaking in February for clashes with rival Michigan and other contenders. Their ceiling remains a top-4 Big Ten finish and single digit NCAA tournament seed, with Malik Hall’s emergence providing another essential piece.
Penn State Outlook
At 1-2 in the Big Ten, Penn State faces pressure to stockpile wins before the schedule turns much tougher in February. They expected to take a small step back following the loss of key cogs Pickett and John Harrar but coach Rhoades has been unable to build depth or develop a consistent rotation.
With Lundy’s struggles, Penn State lacks the high end talent to threaten elite competition without Pickett’s steadying hand. Fail to reach .500 in league play and the Nittany Lions seem destined for the NIT. Rhoades retains job security after last year’s NCAA appearance but must prove he can rebuild around Myles Dread and Lundy. Transfers have by and large failed to move the needle for a club better suited to the bottom third of the conference.
The Big Ten meat grinder awaits but tonight Michigan State looked up to the task while Penn State searched fruitlessly for answers against their suffocating defense and efficient offense. The Spartans marched onward while handing the Nittany Lions a sobering reality check to begin conference play.
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