EAST LANSING – Michigan State basketball closed out 2022 with an impressive offensive performance, the return of Malik Hall and a fourth straight victory.
Everything from here becomes a little more important and a lot more condensed.
The Spartans (9-4) put together their best offensive showing of the season, getting a number of players involved in just their third game in 20 days en route to an 89-68 victory over Buffalo on Friday night at the Breslin Center.
MSU topped its previous season high of 86 points, set in its double-overtime win over Kentucky on Nov. 15. The Spartans return to Big Ten play Tuesday when they host Nebraska. Tipoff is 7 pm (BTN), the fourth of five straight home games for MSU.
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Yet despite committing just 10 turnovers and getting 38 bench points while holding Buffalo to just six points in transition, the Spartans “looked real jagged” in their final nonconference test, according to coach Tom Izzo.
“I think we’re going to be a better team,” Izzo said. “We got to get better quickly, though. I look at this and I say, ‘We won by 21. What the hell’s wrong with you?’ And yet I think when I watch the film, I’m going to feel worse rather than better, because I didn’t like the little things we did. So we’ll get to work on those.”
In his first action since mid-November, Hall scored 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting in 12:27 of court time before exiting after appearing to tweak his previously injured left foot. The senior said he pulled himself after a defensive scramble for a ball left his foot feeling “funky,” but added he just felt “sore” after the game and did not diminish from his return to action.
“It was nice just to be able to play with my guys,” Hall said. “I think it was good and in general, just being able to realize I can still like to play a little bit. It wasn’t too bad, I was just excited.”
Joey Hauser had 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. AJ Hoggard tied a career high with 10 assists to go with 11 points. Jaden Akins also had 13 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts as the Spartans went 8-for-19 from deep and shot 50.8% overall.
“We missed some open shots tonight. I think that just kind of happens,” Hauser said. “It’s the first game back from a break, but we had some open shots, though. That’s always a good sign of things. We just gotta knock them down. But (the ball) was moving pretty well.”
Four players scored in double figures for Buffalo (6-7), which shot 42.4% and outscored MSU in the paint, 44-38. Isaiah Adams scored 15 points, LaQuill Hardnett had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Curtis Jones and Armoni Foster combined for 22 points but on just 8-for-34 shooting.
Hall in, then out
It had been more than a month since Hall last played, a 12-point performance Nov. 18 in a home win over Villanova, and he averaged 12 points and 5.3 rebounds while starting the Spartans’ first four games. The 6-foot-7 forward missed MSU’s past eight games with a stress reaction in his left foot.
Hall came off the bench Friday night in his return, which Izzo said would be limited to about 15 minutes as he builds up his stamina with Big Ten play looming. The veteran leader entered with 12:28 left in the first half and quickly made up for lost time.
He showed some physicality in drawing contact to get to the line early, then hit a pair of 3-pointers. Hall scored a team-leading nine points over two stints that totaled 8:34 as the Spartans took a 41-30 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Hall checked in off the bench at the 15-minute mark. Like in the opening period, he went hard to the basket, finishing a drive from the right wing with an up-and-under layup on the left side of the rim.
But it wasn’t all positive. While fighting for a loose ball with about 11:30 to play, Hall appeared to tweak his left foot and came up calling for a sub as he hobbled back downcourt. He subbed out at 11:07 and was checked out briefly by trainers, remaining on the bench the rest of the night.
“I just like fell and did something funky, and it was starting to bother me a little bit,” Hall said. “But nothing too serious, just aches and pains. It’s just sore in general, but that’s what we expected.”
Hall’s return helped the rest of MSU’s 10-man rotation get involved.
Nine of the 10 Spartans who played in the first half scored, with Hauser and Hoggard each getting six points and Akins and Tre Hollomon scoring five apiece. MSU shot 46.7% and made five of 12 3-pointers. The Spartans also turned it over just four times, with two of those coming in the first 2:28.
Jones hit a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the opening half, and that carried over into an 8-0 start to the second half that pulled the Bulls within 41-38 of the Spartans.
But Akins drained a 3-pointer and Mady Sissoko converted a dunk on the fast break, both off Hoggard assists. Another Hoggard assist set up Sissoko for a dunk, and Hoggard’s layup with 15:06 pushed it back to a double-digit MSU lead.
“We just needed to get things going offensively,” Hoggard said of that stretch to start the second half. “We came out and we missed a couple shots, a couple good looks — we missed a lot of shots tonight, if you ask me, and still shot at a high percentage for the team. But we missed a lot of shots that we don ‘t usually miss.
“It was kind of just picking up our defensive energy there. We got a stop, then we got that over the top to Mady. It kind of helped us get our momentum going.”
Freshman Jaxon Kohler scored a career-high seven points, all after halftime. Pierre Brooks II had eight points in the game, and Holloman and Tyson Walker each added seven points. Sissoko had nine rebounds to go with his six points.
Contact Chris Solari:email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
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