Michigan State weathered several early runs to run away from Oakland with a lasting 90-78 win.
Played at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, the Spartans got some big performances from their seniors, with 17 points from senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. and 14 points from senior forward Gabe Brown. Junior forward Malik Hall chipped in 13 points while freshman guard Max Christie notched 17 points in the most efficient performances of the night.
Michigan State (10-2, 2-0) found much of their success by out-rebounding Oakland (7-4, 2-0) 34-27 and turning second chances into vital scoring chances in a neutral environment.
After Bingham took the opening tip, Michigan State came out firing with Christie knocking down a three from the top bend on the first possession of the game. The Spartans batted Oakland around in the early going, with a key early sequence to establish the tone sparked by some quick plays from Bingham.
The 7’0” center sent one of Oakland freshman forward Trey Townsend’s shots into the seats and stole it on the ensuing inbounds pass from the Golden Grizzlies. He then flipped it to a streaking Brown, who finished the job with a monster dunk to put Michigan State up five.
A kick-out pass from junior guard Tyson Walker to Christie at the edge of the corner only increased their advantage as Oakland struggled to get much of anything going on offense. The Golden Grizzlies finally got on the board at a disadvantage after a threw from junior guard Jalen Moore.
Hall came in with the first wave of reinforcements and contributed quickly, notching a quick two points to make it 10-3 in favor of the Spartans. But Oakland’s defense soon tightened up on Michigan State’s attack, corralling shooters and forcing attempts deep into the shot clock.
With that aggressiveness on defense, Oakland surged for a brief period and cut their deficit to two points on the strength of a three from freshman forward Micah Parrish followed by a driving layup by Moore. Clinging to a 17-15 lead, Michigan State answered immediately with a quick dunk from Bingham to keep things rolling for the Spartans.
The two teams proceeded to trade blows for several ensuing possessions with graduate forward Jamal Cain’s jumper bringing Oakland as close as they’d been all night at 21-20. As the Golden Grizzlies doubled down on stopping Michigan State from the perimeter, the Spartans found their answer by sending Hall and redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser into the paint for two successful shots.
And even as Oakland continued to shoot better than their competition from the perimeter, their performance was hamstrung by a weaker showing on the offensive glass. Michigan State out-rebounded the Golden Grizzlies 9-4 in the early going and took full advantage of the disparity in scoring chances that came with it, as first-half leading scorers Bingham and Hall gamely turned makes into misses.
Michigan State’s defense continued to crank up the heat on their own, forcing Oakland to fire off long and late shots possession after possession while the Spartans slugged back to take a 34-22 lead off the strength of a Hall’s and-one and another finish at the rim. It seemed perfectly fair to assume that head coach Tom Izzo and company had finally settled into the driver’s seat they were unlikely to give up.
For their part, Oakland certainly didn’t believe that. The Golden Grizzlies rode a stretch of strong three-point shooting from Cain to wage an 11-2 run, bringing themselves right back within striking distance in the waning minutes of the first half.
Worse yet, Michigan State also lost one of their most productive players in Hall after a collision under the basket led to him leaving the court with a towel over his left eye. The Spartans had been mired in similar positions this season but after letting the lead slip away, they needed a quick answer to pull away from a confident Oakland team.
Their answer? Go above the rim. Walker lobbed it to Bingham to make it 38-35, Brown slammed a Christie miss 40-35 and after a pair of free throws following an Oakland Head Coach Greg Kampe technical, Walker connected with Brown for the alley-oop to close the half with a nine point lead and the LCA crowd roaring.
Ever focused on starting strong, Michigan State wasted no time getting it going with two fast threes from Walker. Freshman guard Jaden Akins subsequently got another shot one off from behind the arc and increased the Spartans lead to 16 and the team took off even more after Hall returned to the contest with a bandage over his left eye.
From there, Michigan State more or less held Oakland at arm’s length for the rest of the half, rarely allowing them to creep much closer than nine points. The Spartans pushed on as the Golden Grizzlies kept punching back, setting the final edge of the game with a couple of key shots from Brown and Christie to flip the matchup into a rout.
Christie punctuated a not-as-close-as-it-looked affair with a breakaway dunk in the final minute of the contest and the Spartans closed off 90-78 for their fifth consecutive win.
Michigan State returns to action on Dec. 29 against High Point at the Breslin Center.
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