Michigan State relied on a standout performance from senior guard Tyson Walker to earn a 92-61 win over Penn State on Thursday night in the Spartans’ first Big Ten conference game of 2023.
Walker Takes Control as Spartans Dominate from Start
Walker scored a season-high 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting while adding 5 rebounds and 5 assists to pace Michigan State (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten) to its fifth straight win. The Spartans led by as many as 36 points while holding Penn State to just 35.2% shooting in a wire-to-wire victory.
“Tyson was tremendous tonight,” said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. “He really set the tone with his energy on both ends. When he plays with that aggressiveness, it lifts our whole group.”
After Penn State’s Andrew Funk opened the game with a three-pointer, Michigan State responded with a commanding 23-3 run over the next eight minutes. Walker had 9 quick points during that stretch, repeatedly getting into the lane to either finish at the rim or find open teammates for good looks.
The Spartans’ offensive explosion continued in the second half, as they stretched the lead to 30+ points multiple times. Walker and junior forward Malik Hall (16 points on 6-of-9 shooting) paced a balanced Michigan State attack that saw four players finish in double figures.
Meanwhile, Penn State shot just 20% (6-of-30) from three-point range and 33.3% (16-of-48) from inside the arc. Leading scorer Jalen Pickett was held to 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting after entering play averaging 17.5 per game.
“I feel like we just imposed our will early,” Walker said. “We knew we had to come out aggressive against a talented team like Penn State. Once we built that big lead, we never took our foot off the gas.”
MSU Ends Non-Conference Play with Momentum Carryover
Thursday’s rout capped an encouraging non-conference stretch for Michigan State after the team sputtered to a 3-4 start. Key wins over Oregon, Villanova, and Brown provided momentum that carried into the Big Ten opener.
“You could see the confidence growing with each one of those wins,” Izzo remarked. “I wasn’t sure how we’d handle the step up in competition tonight, but we answered that question pretty emphatically.”
Junior center Mady Sissoko echoed his coach’s sentiment about the team playing its best basketball at the perfect time.
“We just have a much better flow right now at both ends,” Sissoko said. “Guys understand their roles and we’re defending at a high level. That gives you a chance every night in this league.”
The well-rounded box score reflects Sissoko’s point about the Spartans’ much-improved flow since the beginning of December. Their unselfishness (23 assists on 34 made baskets), accuracy (55.1% from the field), and commitment on the glass played key roles against Penn State.
Michigan State also continued a positive trend of getting off to fast starts. In each game during their current 5-game winning streak, the Spartans have led by 13+ points at halftime.
“We’ve challenged ourselves to bring energy right away instead of feeling teams out,” junior guard A.J. Hoggard said about the impressive first-half margins. “Our starts have made things much easier on us.”
Grueling Big Ten Schedule Looms After Initial Success
As rewarding as Thursday’s dominant performance felt, Michigan State understands far greater challenges await in Big Ten play. Their next matchup on Sunday against No. 14 Wisconsin begins a daunting two-week stretch featuring five ranked opponents.
However, the Spartans feel their improved play since late November has prepared them to trade blows with the nation’s most formidable conference.
“The non-conference gave us a chance to build chemistry and trust,” Hall said about potentially carrying over their momentum. “We’ll need that going up against teams the caliber of Wisconsin and Illinois in the next couple weeks.”
Izzo emphasized that point by stressing Big Ten games often come down to “surviving tough runs” and “valuing each possession.” His team proved capable of imposing their will against Penn State. The upcoming slate will test Michigan State’s ability to withstand opponents’ best shots.
“Every night is a grind in this league with the quality of teams,” Izzo said. “We took care of business tonight. But our guys know we’ll have to fight for everything going forward.”
If Walker maintains his aggressive mindset on both ends, Michigan State believes they have enough firepower to hang with the Big Ten’s elite. After the senior guard dominated Penn State, the Spartans next find out if they can carry over their non-conference strides against championship-contending Wisconsin.
In summary, Michigan State rode Tyson Walker’s standout effort and stifling team defense to an overwhelming 92-61 victory over Penn State on Thursday night. The win kicks off a daunting Big Ten schedule that will challenge the Spartans’ 5-game winning streak.
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