CORONADO, Calif. – Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo called a vintage timeout with the Spartans trailing 64-63 with 15.6 to play after MSU led for the majority of the game.
The drawn-up play went pear-shaped, and sophomore guard Jaden Akins was forced to heave a three-pointer that was off the mark, sealing a 64-63 win for No. 2 Gonzaga aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Armed Forces Classic.
Junior center Mady Sissoko was particularly strong in the first half and had perhaps his best game in green and white, finishing with a team-leading 14 points and nine rebounds.
The first half couldn't have gone much better for Michigan State.
Graduate forward Joey Hauser picked up two quick fouls six minutes in, forcing him to sit the remainder of the half, though the Spartans fared well without Monday’s leading scorer.
Michigan State jumped out to an 8-7 lead at the first media timeout before Gonzaga came out with a full-court press. It led to three straight ugly offensive possessions for the Spartans consisting of a shot clock violation, a blocked layup and a poor pass off an inbound.
Luckily for the Spartans, Gonzaga had serious troubleshooting in the first half. Sophomore guard Nolan Hickman shot 3-10 from the field, while his fellow junior guard Julian Strawther shot just 2-6. Senior forward and potential National Player of the Year Drew Timme picked up two fouls and played 13 minutes for eight points.
With Hauser on the bench, Sissoko split center duties with freshman center Jaxon Kohler. But whenever Sissoko was on the floor, the offense flowed well, and he was a noticeable presence in the paint.
Whether it was senior Tyson Walker or junior A.J. Hoggard at point guard, Gonzaga had no answer for the pick and roll. Sissoko often got the ball down low and either put in a layup or drew a foul; he finished the half with 10 points, seven rebounds and a block.
Michigan State got a defensive stop in the waning seconds of the half and came down quickly on the fast break, with Walker and freshman guard Tre Holloman countering. Holloman cut to the basket on the left side, Walker threw it up, and Holloman laid it in to beat the first-half buzzer.
MSU led Gonzaga 38-31 at the half.
The Spartans carried the momentum into the second half, ballooning the lead to 12 three minutes into the half off a pair of free throws from Hauser.
But Gonzaga took a timeout and quickly went on an 11-0 run to cut the lead to 45-44, forcing MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo to call a timeout.
MSU finally got a bucket from Walker coming out of the timeout to end the scoring run, and the two teams traded scores.
With seven minutes to play, Timme got a position on Sissoko and shot a bucket through contact while picking up a foul to cut MSU’s lead to three.
A banked three-pointer from the corner by senior guard Rasir Bolton knotted the game at 59-59 before a putback by redshirt junior guard Malachi Smith gave the Bulldogs their first lead since the first half.
Michigan State tied it back up at 63 on a strong hook from senior forward Malik Hall, but then Sissoko got called for his fifth foul while wrestling for a position on Timme. Timme hit the first free throw, giving the Bulldogs a one-point lead with 1:04 to play.
Gonzaga turned the ball over with 31 seconds to play, gifting MSU a chance to walk off with a win.
The play coming out of the timeout brokedown, and Akins was forced to a desperation three at the top of the key. The ball hit the rim and bounced off, and MSU walked away with a hard-fought 64-63 loss.
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The Spartans will have the chance to bounce back when they face the Kentucky Wildcats on Nov. 15. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
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