Michigan State outlasted University of Connecticut 64-60 in their second game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Senior forward Gabe Brown led the Spartans in scoring with 16 points while junior center Julius Marble II emerged with 15 points. Michigan State didn’t have as much production from their regular starting lineup but notched a staggering 31 bench points to UConn’s 7.
For the second game in a row, Michigan State started strong by leaning on their defense, a balanced attack and good ball handling to take the early lead and build on it steadily throughout the first half. Brown got the Spartans on the board first and kept the tempo for his team, chipping in shot after shot to keep his team going and maintain their advantage.
Down 6-0, UConn started to show their first signs of life after a three from graduate student guard R.J. Cole made it 9-5. Cole’s take was one of the only bits of shooting success the Huskies would have in the early going as Michigan State bottled up the Huskies backcourt, limiting UConn as a whole to 25.8% shooting from the field with only one made three pointer.
The Spartans, through senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. and Marble, managed their biggest success by limiting dynamic senior center Adama Sanogo scoreless through much of the first half. Sanogo rebounded in the final six minutes of the first half to post eight points after a late surge but the Spartan’s early corralling efforts put them in a position to keep rolling.
UConn stayed tough and closed on a quiet 6-0 run while Michigan State worked through a late slump but it was clear the Spartans had done everything they needed to do to finish the first half with a 32-24 lead.
In the second half, Cole’s jumpshot got UConn on the board first but Michigan State kept punching back, their biggest coming with a junior guard Tyson Walker-three to make it 38-27.
Then things fell apart.
The Huskies flipped the script on Michigan State and waged a 12-3 run, picking apart the Spartan’s defense with a flurry of points from senior guard Tyrese Martin, Sanogo and sophomore guard Andre Jackson and strong defense across the board. Marble was whistled for goaltending after grabbing an attempt from Martin off the rim and UConn pulled within two for the first time since the earliest minutes of the game.
On the ensuing possession, Martin tied the game up 41-41 with a thunderous dunk on the fast break after a turnover from the Spartans. Michigan State had seemingly wilted in the face of an opponent that was willing to be just as disruptive and just as tough as they were and they paid for it in full and were back in the spot they were in only one day before.
Still, they pushed on. Sophomore guard AJ Hoggard gave Michigan State the lead once again after turning the corner on Sanogo and finishing at the rim. Both teams traded blows and grinded through possessions for a period and with a little over seven minutes left, Cole gave UConn their first lead of the day after his three made it 49-48.
From there, Sanogo took over in the paint for good, putting up four points on back to back possessions, and Martin finished off another fast break dunk to push UConn’s lead to 55-48. The Spartans were mired in one of their worst slumps of the season and their frustration was evident as they weathered the storm.
Then, with a little under four minutes left, Brown let it fly with an open three to give Michigan State some desperately needed points. UConn kept the pace and rebounded hard to give themselves more chances but Brown’s shot gave Michigan State life for the final stretch.
Marble pulled the Spartans closer with two free throws after a Sanogo violation to make it 60-57 with 1:41 to go. Michigan State regained possession after a UConn miss and pushed hard down the floor, resulting in a bounce pass on the fast break from Hoggard to Marble who took it up and in, 60-59 with just over a minute to go.
Cole fouled out with 30 seconds to go with his final coming under the basket on Hoggard, much to the dismay of UConn Head Coach Dan Hurley. At the line for two, he converted both to give his team the lead that they’d lost long ago and UConn called a timeout after taking it back up the floor.
When play resumed, junior forward Malik Hall read a pass towards the paint from Martin and blocked it for one of eventually getting fouled by Martin as he attempted to regain possession. Hall hit his free throws and with 17.2 seconds left, Michigan State called their final timeout to prepare for another close finish.
As play resumed, junior guard Jalen Gaffney weaved in and out of the Michigan State defense, looking desperately for an open man. With the shot clock ticking down, he hoisted a long three from the top of the key to no avail.
UConn fouled Walker, who hit his free throws, and Martin heaved one last deep shot as the buzzer sounded on Michigan State’s 64-60 comeback win. For the second day in a row, the Spartans relinquished a considerable lead, came back late and showed their toughness on both ends of the floor.
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