Couch: 3 quick takes on Michigan State’s 86-55 win over Georgia Southern

1. Tough to take much from MSU’s easy win over Georgia Southern

There were some things to like about the way Michigan State dismantled Georgia Southern, 86-55, on Tuesday night — the Spartans were suffocating on defense in the first half, Jaden Akins played with purpose offensively, scoring 14 points, freshman Jeremy Fears Jr. was terrific on several fronts and their starting point guard had 10 assists and just two turnovers.

Thing is, that starting point guard was Tre Holloman. So this was a send-a-message game from Tom Izzo, starting Holloman over A.J. Hoggard, who actually played pretty well and scored 12 points to go along with four assists and three steals in 22 minutes.

Problem is, until MSU figures that position out and can trust it, there’s only so much to take from any game. Especially a game like this. Holloman played his part to a T and will always have a role. But Hoggard is the best answer this season. If not Hoggard, it’s eventually Fears.

All three were too much for Georgia Southern. But that’s why these three play at MSU and not in the Sun Belt Conference. Let’s see it next Tuesday against Wisconsin. And let’s see what the rotation looks like.

2. If you’re not hitting your 3s against Georgia Southern …

MSU could get shots against Georgia Southern it won’t be able to get against a lot of other teams, so it didn’t need to take — or rely on — as many 3s as it will later on. But the Spartans not only passed up some good 3-point looks, they also didn’t hit many of the 3s they took. On the night, the Spartans were 5-for-18 from beyond the arc — against a team that’s among the worst in college basketball at defending the 3-point shot. Georgie Southern entered the night allowing opposing teams to make 42% of their 3-pointers, including 36 of them in their previous three games.

MSU has only looked like a dangerous outside shooting team in one of its seven games this season — against Alcorn State. That’s the only time the Spartans have hit more than seven in a game or shot better than 35% from deep. I think we’ll see more consistency from Jaden Akins on his outside shot — he was 1-for-4 Tuesday after going 7-for-17 over his last three games — but I don’t see an obvious place where this team grows into a significantly better outside-shooting team. That’s an issue.

3. Freshman thoughts – the Georgia Southern edition

We saw why Xavier Booker isn’t getting more playing time this season during Tuesday’s game against Georgia Southern. It was also good to see him get more playing time — good for him and good for MSU.

Booker isn’t as far away from meaningful minutes as it might seem. Because he has tools you can’t teach and tools that nobody else on MSU’s roster has — mostly, being close to 7-feet tall, with a shooter’s touch, a high-jumper’s bounce and decent ball skills. We’re just not seeing it much yet.

What he doesn’t have is strength or understanding or, as Tom Izzo said Monday, a motor at the level where it needs to be. The strength part of things isn’t going to happen this season. But as he starts to understand the nuances of what they’re asking of him and if his motor can match his desire to play, he can help this team. This year.

It might not seem like it after Tuesday — especially a first half when Booker went 0-for-3 shooting, missed his only free throw and gave up a layup in five minutes. But I still think he’s a guy that by mid-January could be making an increasing impact. He played four separate stints Tuesday. That’s the type of run he needs. And the type of run this sort of matchup allows. In the second half, he made a wide-open 3 (on a dish from classmate Jeremy Fears Jr). That alone won’t be enough for Booker to see increased playing time. But it’ll be one of the elements he eventually brings. And one that’s needed. It’s just hard to picture right now.

Fears, meanwhile, showed a side of his game we haven’t seen much of yet — his scoring on the drive. Both of his running floaters in the first half came with Fears playing off the ball, with A.J. Hoggard in the game — a rotation that happened because Hoggard didn’t start. Something to keep an eye on. I liked that pairing, especially on Fears’ second bucket, which came with Hoggard swinging the ball to him in the corner and Fears attacking the rim.

In the second half, Fears exploded toward the rim, drawing a foul, showing the burst that separates him from a lot of guards. He made a big impact Tuesday in a number of ways — with 10 rebounds, six points, three assists and a steal.

Coen Carr had a slow start. Fastest way to measure that is on the glass and it was well into the second half before Carr hauled in his first rebound. He’s going to have to be more consistent with that, but he finished with four boards in short order, so he seemed to get the message.

MORE: Couch: New Michigan State football coach Jonathan Smith is Alan Haller’s legacy and Haller knows it

Contact Graham Couch at gcouch@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

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