For the first 20 minutes of the MSU-Baylor, it was nearly impossible to distinguish who was the defending national champion and who was the team that was barely above .500.
Michigan State hung with Baylor step for step for half the game but began to quickly wither away in the second half, leading to a resounding 75-58 victory for the No. 6 Bears. Michigan State will return from its Feast Week trip in the Bahamas with a 2-1 record and the runner-up in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Michigan State jumped out to an early lead in the first two games of the tournament, but that was not the case in the championship. Baylor jumped on the Spartans from the opening tip and had an 11-6 lead three minutes into the game.
The Spartans took the early blow from the defending national champions on the chin and stormed back immediately. Michigan State answered the early flurry with an immediate 8-0 run over the next three minutes to briefly take the lead.
But Baylor did not just lay down and take it. MSU and the defending national champions traded blow for blow for the remainder of the opening half. After Baylor tied the game at 14 with 13:22 left, neither team led by more than five points for the remainder of the half.
Michigan State was able to keep up with Baylor’s frenetic pace with a barrage of deep shots. The Spartans had its best shooting half of the season from deep, going 50% from behind the arc (4-8). The great shooting was fueled by the crisp passing from Michigan State’s guards. Eight of MSU’s 14 first-half baskets came from assists, including each three.
The Bears led by two at halftime thanks to a 7-0 run to close the half over the final two minutes. Michigan State was unable to build a lead once again due to its inability to hold onto the ball. MSU turned it over nine times in the first half, leading to 10 Baylor points off the turnovers.
Baylor continued its run into the opening minutes of the second half. The 7-0 run ballooned into a 14-2 run into the first three minutes of the second half. The Bears made four of its first five field goal attempts to jump out to a 45-38 lead.
Baylor changed its strategy offensively in the second half. Their first 12 points of the second half came in the paint as the Bears’ guards were able to easily get into the paint time and time again. They also began to relentlessly attack the glass. After being out-rebounded 17-10 in the first half, Baylor grabbed 8 more rebounds in the second half for a +1 rebounding margin.
The defending national champs continued to clamp down on the Spartans to jump out to a comfortable lead. A string of missed shots and turnovers on offense for MSU let Baylor extend its lead from seven to 13 over the next three minutes. The bad stretch was topped off with junior guard Tyson Walker inbounding the ball directly to Baylor’s James Akinjo which led to a wide-open three.
The breakdown on both ends in the first half proved to be far too much to overcome against the sixth-ranked team in the country. Once the Bears were up double digits with 14 minutes left, they shut the door on the Spartans. They did not allow the lead to get below 10 for the rest of the game.
The lone bright spot for MSU in the second half was freshman guard Jaden Akins. Akins got his biggest opportunity yet, playing a career-high 17 minutes which led to a career-high 12 points. He constantly lived above the rim for rebounds, including an emphatic put-back dunk over teammate Malik Hall.
The loss drops MSU 5-2 on the year with both losses coming against top 10 opponents. MSU will return to action in East Lansing when they take on Louisville Dec. 1 as a part of the ACC-Big 10 challenge.
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