1. MSU needs this version of Malik Hall to show up every night
EAST LANSING – Michigan State took over the game Wednesday night when Malik Hall took over the game. For a few minutes, it was Hall’s world out there, scoring eight straight MSU points — a driving layup and two 3-pointers — as the Spartans took a 14-point lead.
There’s no excuse for him not to be this guy every night. He’s got too much game. Too much confidence. And he’s shown too much now. MSU was plus-18 with Hall on the court in its 73-64 win over Louisville on Wednesday at Breslin Center.
After what Hall did against Loyola Chicago last week — 24 points on a dazzling 9-for-9 shooting — and his 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting Wednesday (playing on a bum ankle, no less, that he said is still hurting him), MSU should be able to count on him as a consistent scorer. That's the next step. MSU needs another scorer. He can be it. The rest of his game, on both ends, is already there.
“It’s really just confidence in myself,” Hall said Wednesday night. “… It’s also being able to make sure I’m doing it all within our offense. I’m not trying to breakdown the offense and be an isolation person. I’m trying to do it within. I’m trying to find that consistency. It’s something I’ve been struggling with. I think it’s something I’m starting to figure out more and more as we grow as a team.”
Adding to the importance of Hall finding that consistency, MSU’s other option at power forward, Joey Hauser, is struggling mightily right now, to the point I heard boos after he turned the ball over at one point Wednesday. MSU was nine points worse than Louisville when Hauser was on the court. Plus-minus isn’t everything as a stat, but when one guy is plus-18 and the other is minus-nine, it’s obvious which one is giving you more.
For Hall, though, it’s not just about being the better option at his position. It’s about being a guy who leads, who gives you offense, who has those flurries where he takes over for a minute and changes a game. Like he did Wednesday. That’s who he’s shown he can be. So, in his third season, that’s who he should be.
2. Jaden Akins, man.
Jaden Akins has played himself into becoming an MSU fan favorite. There was always a decent chance he’d be that guy — he glides when he jumps, he’s new and he’s playing off the ball where he’s not part of MSU’s turnover problems at point guard. And, he’s making a sizable contribution — beyond just his role as an energy guy, defender and rebounder. Akins is hitting shots. He hit three of the four he took Wednesday, the first two of them 3s, the second of which put MSU ahead 45-37 at a critical juncture as the Spartans took control of the game.
He finished with 10 points, including a pair of free throws, in 10 minutes, with two rebounds, an assist and three turnovers. The last two of those turnovers, back to back, earned him a seat on the bench. But what’s clear is that he understands his role. Unlike Max Christie (see below), MSU doesn’t need Akins to be a primary scorer this season. When he’s open, he shoots. That’s it. It’s been several games since he’s taken a bad shot. And as long as he glides and rebounds and makes people think of great possibilities ahead, he’s cemented his place as the fan darling of this MSU team.
3. (More) freshman thoughts – the Louisville edition
Max Christie’s grind offensively continues. It’s not that he’s missing shots, as much as he’s not getting or taking a ton. And, to his credit, he’s not forcing anything. Christie didn’t take his fourth shot Wednesday until the 9:38 mark of the second half, a pull-up jumper, which he made. He also made one of his first three attempts — a 3-pointer to extend MSU’s lead to 27-22. That 3 from the top of the key came when Louisville’s defense lost him in transition. That didn’t happen often. The Cardinals had a man glued to Christie most of the night. He’s clearly a high priority on scouting reports. That’s his new reality. He and MSU are going to have to adjust. He had nine points in 30 minutes Wednesday. But they didn't come easy. Neither did points for the guy he was guarding, Louisville's leading scorer, who he held scoreless.
“He did an unbelievable job on (Noah) Locke,” Tom Izzo said, crediting Christie as a major reason why MSU won.
Pierre Brooks, for the first time this season, was part of the actual rotation Wednesday. He got a three-minute first-half stint against Connecticut last week and played well. Then played three minutes against Baylor at garbage time. This time, though, he got two nearly two-minute stretches in the first 20 minutes, the sort of playing time that doesn’t happen unless it’s planned and has been earned. And then came the proof that he’s part of the mix — his playing time extended to the second half of a game that was still in doubt.
Like against UConn, Brooks made an impact Wednesday night. His 3-pointer from the corner with 4 minutes left until halftime gave MSU its first somewhat real advantage, 30-22, in a game the Spartans had trailed just 90 seconds earlier. It forced Louisville to call a timeout. MSU stayed in front the rest of the half and led by that same margin at the break. In a game that was a defensive struggle, against a somewhat offensively-challenged opponent, those sort of momentum plays feel bigger than they might in other games.
When Brooks has gotten a chance, he hasn’t been afraid to let it fly and he’s made some shots. And, other than one turnover against UConn, he hasn’t made any memorable gaffes. If he keeps contributing like this, he’ll continue to have a place in the rotation.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State basketball pulls away to beat Louisville: 3 quick takes