Thursday, December 2, 2021

FINAL: MSU drops season opener to No. 3 Kansas 87-74 in Champions Classic

November 9, 2021
<p>Michigan State&#x27;s freshman forward Peter Nwoke (35) defends against Ferris State during Michigan State&#x27;s victory on Oct. 27, 2021.</p>

Michigan State's freshman forward Peter Nwoke (35) defends against Ferris State during Michigan State's victory on Oct. 27, 2021.

Michigan State headed to New York to kick off the college basketball season on one of the biggest stages in sports at Madison Square Garden against a top-five ranked Kansas Jayhawks team. Expectations were riding high for the new-look Spartans looking to bounce back from last season.

But, the rebound will have to wait a little longer for MSU. The Spartans were outmatched by Kansas for a majority of the game and fell 87-74 to the Jayhawks. 

After a close affair of almost 25 minutes, No. 3 Kansas showed the difference between the programs and pulled away for a comfortable victory over the unranked Spartans. 

The Spartans and Jayhawks had little separation between them through the opening minutes of the game. The teams traded one-point leads back and forth throughout the first half. The teams traded missed shots and turnovers early as they felt each other out in the opening moments of the season.

The story early on for Michigan State was the impact off the bench. Following the first media timeout with MSU trailing 6-4, sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard and junior forward Julius Marble II checked in for junior guard Tyson Walker and senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr., respectively. 

Hoggard and Marble had an immediate impact and provided the spark MSU was looking for after the sluggish opening five minutes. Only seconds after checking in, Hoggard instantly got involved and stole the ball from Kansas senior forward David McCormack.

On the following offensive possession for MSU, Hoggard showed why Izzo raved about his ability to run the show for the Spartans. After junior forward Malik Hall hauled in a long rebound, Hoggard got the ball quickly and went coast to coast in an instant for his first points of the season.

Marble followed up the frenzied start from Hoggard with back-to-back baskets of his own. He looked for his shot early and often on the low block. The first field goal came on a 12-foot baby hook over McCormack, followed by a driving layup over him next time down the court.

The two of them combined for 14 of MSU’s 16 first-half bench points. The impressive stretch from the top reserves on the bench gave MSU a 12-10 lead early, but the Jayhawks answered resoundingly. 

Outside of the contributions from Hoggard and Marble, MSU largely struggled offensively early. The Spartans shot 43.8% from the floor and 28.6% from three. The leading scorer outside of those two was freshman guard Max Christie with six points that came on a pair of three-point field goals.

Kansas hounded Michigan State’s guards on the dribble throughout the first half, forcing 11 Spartan turnovers. Kansas was able to effectively generate offense from MSU’s mistakes, scoring 12 points off turnovers and nine points in transition.

The Jayhawks were led in the first half by senior guard Ochai Agbaji who scored 12 points. The Jayhawks built the first considerable lead of the game late in the half, going on a 7-0 run from 3:31 to 1:18 to take a 37-31 lead into the final minute. Kansas held a seven-point lead at halftime, 39-32.

Michigan State came out of the half swinging. The Spartans started off the half, shooting 80% from the field and sinking two threes in the opening three minutes. The effort from MSU cut Kansas’ lead to four, but the Jayhawks matched the effort at every step to keep them at bay.

Kansas withstood the flurry and answered by pushing the lead back to seven, five minutes into the half. The scoring was led by Agbaji and Arizona State transfer senior point guard Remy Martin, who scored nine points in the first seven minutes after not attempting a shot in the first half.

After combating the Spartan resistance early, Kansas began to run away with the game down the stretch of the second half. Leading 52-45 with 15:20 left, the Jayhawks turned up the heat over the next five minutes. Kansas went on a 17-9 mini-run over the next 5:57 of game time, taking a 15 point lead into the final 10 minutes of the game.

Michigan State continued its attempts to find a way to come back but could not even bring the deficit back to single digits. Hoggard continued to lead the effort in the second half and finished with a team-high 17 points. The sophomore point guard continued to attack the rim relentlessly, but it proved to be too little too late for MSU. 

Kansas kept its distance, though, and kept at least a 10-point lead for the final 13 minutes of the game. The Jayhawks were led by a mesmerizing performance from Agbaji, who finished with a career-high 29 points. He shot 56% from the field and 50% from behind the arc. 

The Jayhawks also got quality performances from role players like senior forward Mitch Lightfoot and junior point guard Christian Braun. 

Michigan State falls to 0-1 with the loss tonight. The Spartans return home to take on Western Michigan on Friday, Nov. 12, to try and find their first win of the season. 

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