The shorthanded Spartans fell 81-70 to No. 18 Alabama in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational. Senior guard Tyson Walker and junior guard A.J. Hoggard scored 21 and 18 points respectively, but offensive contributions from the players were minimal.
FINAL: MSU falls behind No. 18 Alabama 81-70 in first round of Phil Knight Invitational
Alabama’s length raised concern for MSU from the start as the Crimson Tide notched three consecutive alley-oops, taking an early lead over the green and white.
New faces took over the court in the first including heavy minutes from freshmen centers Jaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper, as well as guard Tre Holloman. Graduate guard Jason Whitens even made a brief three minute appearance early on in the half, just his second time this season seeing the floor.
MSU started out strong on the glass, out rebounding its opponent in the first, earning 19 rebounds compared to Alabama's 16.
However, turnovers continued to be a weak link for the Spartans, picking up seven in the first 20 minutes.
Alabama’s freshman guard Brandon Miller kept the Spartans on their toes, netting 17 points for the Crimson Tide in the first.
MSU scrambled back midway through the half when Walker broke the scoring drought for the Spartans.
It was all tied up, 15-15, with 10 minutes left in the half. MSU brought the heat offensively, securing a seven-point lead with 5:41 to play.
MSU struggled defensively throughout the entirety of the half, feeling the loss of Hall on that end of the court.
Alabama crept back in the final minute, sinking two free throws and two 3-pointers, one of which Miller collected with two seconds to play on the fast break. Ultimately gaining a 42-37 lead at the half.
The second half was yet again a rocky start for MSU. Just as Izzo expected, Alabama’s 3's are what set them apart, making it difficult for the Spartans to hang on offensively.
Alabama took off, comfortably holding onto its lead throughout the entirety of the second half. The Crimson Tide led by nine (50-41) three minutes into the second, their lead only going up from there.
Foul trouble spread to Kohler, earning three personal fouls, two in the second half.
Holloman put up the first 3-pointer of the game for the green and white with just under 14 minutes left in the game. The Spartans shot just 4-14 from beyond the arc.
But MSU continued to lack offensively, sitting at 16-43 in field goals halfway through the second half. Following Holloman’s basket, the Spartans went scoreless for four minutes, broken by a layup from Walker off a turnover.
Walker served as the backbone for MSU’s offense throughout the rest of the half, along with Hoggard, who's 18 points were a career-high.
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MSU squeezed into single digits with four minutes to play (72-63) and once again with 1:48 (76-67).
But MSU's late push didn't cut it. The Spartans failed to seal the comeback, falling to the Crimson Tide 81-70 in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational.
The green and white will face Oregon on Friday at the Moda Center. Tipoff will be at 12:00 a.m. Eastern time on ESPN.