East Lansing — Malik Hall admits it will be pretty cool when he hears his name announced as a starter at the Breslin Center.
That’s likely to happen for the first time on Wednesday when No. 14 Michigan State hosts Northwestern, assuming Spartans coach Tom Izzo keeps the same starting lineup he used in Sunday’s victory at Minnesota. That game signified a switch from Izzo as Hall took over for Marcus Bingham and responded by scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Hall said Monday back on campus. “It’s something I dreamed about since I was a kid to be able to do it and to help the team get a win was a great feeling. We definitely needed the win. It was a big confidence booster for us as far as road wins go and now it’s just about carrying it on as we’re about at the halfway point in the Big Ten.”
Hall was right about the fact the Spartans (15-5, 7-2 Big Ten) needed the win. With Illinois playing well, the victory kept Michigan State in a first-place tie with the Fighting Illini and ended a two-game road skid that included the loss earlier in the week at Indiana.
It was after that loss to the Hoosiers that Izzo brought up the idea about making some adjustments to the lineup and rotation, and by the time the team arrived in Minneapolis on Friday, Hall knew he was about to get his first career start.
Joined by fellow freshman Rocket Watts, who took over for Aaron Henry, the plan was for the duo to help provide a spark for a team that has been getting off to slow starts. It wasn’t a dramatic change in that regard on Sunday, but with the Golden Gophers starting slow as well, Michigan State eventually took advantage as a 16-2 run was capped by Hall’s three-point play.
“I just came in mentally prepared,” Hall said. “As soon as I heard (I was starting) I was like, all they’re talking about was faster starts, so I had to go in and do my job and try and do as much as I can to help everybody else. Whether that's rebounding or playing defense and helping to get stops, whatever we needed.”
The moves worked well as Watts scored 10 points and played solid defense on Minnesota’s Marcus Carr and Henry came to life off the bench, scoring nine points, pulling down four rebounds and getting four steals.
As Izzo said after the game, the moves might not be done, but he’s simply trying to find consistency.
That’s been the goal for Hall throughout his freshman season, one that got off to a quick start when he scored 17 in a victory at Seton Hall in November. Since then, the ups and downs have been that of a typical freshman.
“I'm still finding my role,” Hall said. “Knowing what shots to take, what shots not to take. Part of that comes with my consistency and shooting, just being able to knock down the shots when I'm open. I think that's for the most part.”
Hall was 4-for-4 on 3-pointers in that Seton Hall win and has the potential to be an effective pick-and-pop player. However, the shooting has been hit and miss since that game and Hall has been working hard on shot selection, when to attack the rim and when to give the ball up.
Games like Sunday’s, when he was such a big part of the win, only boost Hall’s confidence.
“I think it's just more fuel to the fire,” Hall said. “It makes you just work harder and now that I’ve got that position, I don't want to lose it. I want to do as much as I can off that position. So being able to work more and have that little confidence booster is definitely big.”
There are, however, no guarantees, and Hall knows that.
The Spartans have now started three different players at the power forward position, beginning the season with Thomas Kithier before shifting to Bingham and then Hall. Freshman Julius Marble is also getting in the rotation, meaning things could change at any point.
Hall admitted, though, that he likes starting. He likes to get in the flow early and likes to provide some early energy for his team.
And yeah, he’s looking forward to hearing his name announced as a starter at the Breslin Center for the first time.
“I think it'd be pretty amazing feeling,” Hall said. “I’ll have a couple friends at the game and just to be able for them to say my name and hear everybody cheer will be pretty fun.”