Michigan State basketball beats Hillsdale in exhibition: 3 quick takes

1. A much-needed and long-awaited debut for this MSU basketball team

EAST LANSING — For the nearly 10,000 Michigan State fans in attendance, Wednesday night at Breslin Center felt like a therapy session that turned into a party. They’d had enough of the dark introspection for now. Basketball season was there to change the mood.

There’s not much to take from an 85-43 exhibition win over Hillsdale. More importantly, it was planned.

After weeks of watching a mid-talented football team fail, the MSU men’s basketball team took the court with the kind of roster that should compete very well in college basketball – five players with extensive starting experience, replaced by a line change of intriguing youngsters. players who received a massive ovation with 16:13 left in the first half. Izzo then made it clear that he would not use line changes once the real games began. But it added to the thrill of Wednesday.

And for MSU freshmen, it was a big moment. This game too, which helped them get rid of some admittedly nervous energy.

“It was a lot different (from a scrimmage) when we all came in and the announcer called our names first,” freshman Coen Carr said. “I know people don’t think it’s because of (the opponent), but it really helps to be able to play that first game no matter who we’re playing.”

This is a team with a high floor. But it’s the ceiling that’s making people as dizzy as I’ve seen in years. Nothing that happened on Wednesday can and should quell this buzz.

2. Freshman Thoughts – The Hillsdale Exhibition Edition

I didn’t hear an ovation at the Breslin Center like when MSU’s four freshmen arrived for the first time Wednesday since Steven Izzo last checked in for cleanup. People have been waiting for this – for Jeremy Fears Jr., Coen Carr, Xavier Booker and Gehrig Normand to debut. It was just an exhibition game, but for now, it will do.

A few things stood out:

Fears is a tenacious two-way player – confident as heck offensively, never giving up on the defensive end. And he’s going to help MSU catch a break. He loves the early pass. Against Hillsdale, it largely worked – except for the time Carr fell. It will be interesting to see how often he tries it against longer, more athletic competitions.

“If my teammate has a step or two, I think I’m able to get ahead,” Fears said afterward. “I have confidence in myself that I can put the ball in his hands while he’s running and take him straight to the basket. …I’ve been doing it since I was young.

As a rookie, I placed Fears in the Gary Harris/Miles Bridges category – the kind of big shot Izzo sometimes treated with kid gloves. As a point guard, you can already see it – Fears is going to get the full Izzo experience. On Wednesday, that included both stern conversations with Fears nodding and both arms around each other talking about what just happened.

Fears finished with two points, eight assists and four turnovers in 18 minutes, seeing the game end with Steven Izzo on the floor.

RELATED: Couch: Tom Izzo can’t hide how he feels about Jeremy Fears Jr., talking about Michigan State’s freshman point guard

Carr left the game for the young Izzo, a fan favorite for another. Carr is going to entertain this season. He did it Wednesday, including a steal and a thunderous one-handed dunk in the first half for two of his 12 points in 15 minutes. He only had three rebounds. That’s the number to watch – the number that will largely determine the extent of his role this season. He played primarily small forward but also some power forward. He could see minutes there if he outplays Booker.

“Being able to play multiple positions, that’s one of the reasons they recruited me,” Carr said. “(The challenge) is more on the defensive side, guarding the bigger players.”

Booker’s skills stand out. He hit a somewhat contested 3-pointer from the left wing right out of the gate and another 3 later. These are all his six points. I think his basic mid-range jumper will be a weapon as well. He also had three blocked shots, but against smaller competition. I want to see Booker against top level and Division I competition before really evaluating him. Because that’s not only when he’ll be tested physically – he was moved up a bit on Wednesday by Hillsdale – but also at that point I think his skills and length could actually separate it. Against Hillsdale, MSU’s entire roster was athletically superior. It’s clear and Izzo said it Wednesday night: Booker will have to be better on the glass if he wants to play important minutes.

Normand played eight minutes and scored two points – on a reverse layup in transition off a Fears flat. He’s the 11th man in what is likely a 10-man rotation. But he is talented. If he had been on last year’s team, he might have played 12-15 minutes per game in November.

RELATED: Couch: MSU freshman Gehrig Normand is as modest as they come. But he knows he’s at MSU to make shots.

3. Tre Holloman isn’t going anywhere

There aren’t many definitive statements I’m willing to make after an exhibition game against Hillsdale. Here’s one: Tre Holloman won’t be left out of this game rotation, no matter how stocked and talented the backcourt is around him.

Holloman on Wednesday looked like a sophomore who learned a few things as a freshman — like what it takes to play. He understood last season that if he didn’t make mistakes, he would have a role as backup leader. He’s adapted, apparently understanding that if he’s going to play a role this year, it will largely be as a surprise second unit, often alongside freshman Jeremy Fears Jr.

Holloman scored nine points on five shots in 20 minutes Wednesday night (with four assists), with two of his buckets lost in the jubilation of a freshman bucket right before his own — his 3-pointer right after a triple from Xavier Booker and a solid drive. and scoring while being fouled while the crowd was still buzzing after Coen Carr’s opening dunk.

This is going to be the story of his season, I think. His presence isn’t going to excite the building like his younger teammates will on the field. He also won’t have as much impact as his older comrades in the backcourt. But the idea that Holloman might be a strange man…he doesn’t seem ready to give in.

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

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