In a rare game that they never led at any point, Michigan State men's basketball fell 84-63 in a deflating loss to Rutgers on the road.
Senior forward Gabe Brown led the Spartans (17-5, 8-3 in the Big Ten) in scoring with 20 points in a slump-busting effort and senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. chipped in 12 points of his own. These performances were outmatched by a strong team effort from Rutgers where all five starters scored over 10 points to pour it on the Spartans with 17 points from senior forward Ron Harper Jr.
The game marked the continuation of some familiar frustrations for Michigan State as they turned the ball over 15 times. Further, the Spartans got out-rebounded once again, this time by an 11 rebound differential that hamstrung their overall attack.
Rutgers took the early lead off a monster slam from sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi and didn’t look back, shooting a blistering 10-14 (71.4%) from the field in the first 15 minutes to stake an early claim on the matchup. The Scarlet Knights managed this through a balanced attack in the paint and past the arc with key contributions from their starting lineup and a welcome 9 points in the opening period from sophomore forward Dean Reiber.
Michigan State weathered the early storm and began to issue blows of their own as Rutgers threatened to push the lead to double digits in their home arena. As the Scarlet Knights cooled ever so slightly, freshman guard Max Christie inched Michigan State closer and closer with a pair of threes to keep the game within reach as Bingham and junior center Julius Marble II continued to chip away in the paint.
Not to say it was easy skating. The Spartans' chances took a blow when starting junior guard Tyson Walker picked up a costly third foul with 8:41 left in the first half and headed off to the bench, leaving sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard with the task of running the offense.
But like his game against Wisconsin on Jan. 21, Hoggard steadied Michigan State’s attack as they worked through lanes once clogged and trips to the basket once obstructed to get up good shots deep into the shot clock. Going against a stout Rutgers defense, he helped usher the Spartans to a point where they’d be primed to get back into it as the Scarlet Knights vied to make a statement.
And just as they started to knock on the door, it was Brown who took the reins to bring his team right into the thick of it. The senior co-captain picked up 14 points (4-5 from deep) in the first half, including back-to-back threes that put the Spartans in a position to knot the game off a Bingham layup with a little over four minutes to go in the opening period.
Rutgers responded to Michigan State’s counter by leaning on their star duo and retaking a 35-28 lead on the strength of a layup from Harper and a deep three from Baker. Still, Michigan State hung tight in the battle and ended the half with a buzzer beating three from Brown to make it 40-38 in favor of the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers came into the second half firing on all cylinders, corking off a 7-0 run in the first minute that saw senior forward Caleb McConnell bang a three that electrified the RAC and a technical foul issued on Izzo after he displayed his dismay at a no-call on contact between Christie and Harper.
Although Brown hit another timely three to keep his team at arm’s lengths, the Scarlet Knights brought an added intensity to give them the edge as Michigan State tried to cut the deficit once again. Once steady, Rutgers continued to badger the Spartans on defense and it all the key shots to put them in position to flip things out of control.
It was a moment they got, courtesy of none other than Reiber. His wide open three locked up a career high for the sophomore and capped off another 8-0 run to make 58-47 in favor of Rutgers, a quick swing in momentum that brought the Rutgers faithful to their feet.
From there, the Spartans struggled, be it with defense, turnovers or running sets out of their halfcourt offense. Rutgers seemed to surge, relishing a hard-charging approach that put them well on their way to notching their second win ever over the Spartans. It wasn’t exactly when they took control but junior guard Paul Mulcahy’s three to put the Scarlet Knights up 19 made it more than apparent that they had the game locked up in their grip.
It was one they never relinquished either. So as Rutgers dribbled out the final 12 seconds of a euphoric win, the curtains closed on the other side for a dismal 84-63 loss for the Spartans.
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