After a loss on Thursday to Alabama followed by a narrow victory over Oregon on Friday Night, MSU finished off the weekend with another close win (78-77) against Portland, looking awfully similar to other games this season.
MSU managed to leave the Phil Knight Invitational 2-1 after facing challenges due to absence from injury for senior forward Malik Hall and sophomore guard Jaden Akins.
The Spartans' starters looked the same Sunday as they did the following games of the weekend. Junior guard A.J. Hoggard, sophomore guard Pierre Brooks, senior guard Tyson Walker, junior guard Mady Sissoko and graduate student forward Joey Hauser took the floor.
Within the first eight seconds of the game, Hoggard turned the ball over, allowing Portland to get on the board first.
The score was neck-and-neck throughout the entirety of the first half.
Izzo switched up the starting five early on, sending in graduate student guard Jason Whitens and freshman center Jaxon Kohler within the first four minutes.
Whitens picked up two offensive rebounds in the few minutes he played alongside Kohler, who collected one rebound and a block.
Similar to Friday, Whitens made the most of the short minutes he played in the half.
However, Walker failed to finish the standout performance that he started early on this weekend. Walker was 3-8 from the floor in the half, unable to carry the load for MSU.
Turnovers are still a work in progress for the Spartans, who obtained three next to Portland’s one.
MSU struggled to shut down the Pilots defensively as Portland went 16-35 in field goals and 9-19 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Portland redshirt junior forward Kristian Sjolund and junior guard Tyler Robertson kept the Spartans on their toes, picking up a combined 17 of Portland’s 42 points.
Despite offensive efforts to turn the score around late in the half, the green and white trailed the Pilots by eight (42-34) at halftime.
The Spartans came back full force after the half starting with Brooks' third three pointer of the night followed by another three from Walker.
Walker fine-tuned his game at the half, responding with a final team-high of 16 points.
Hoggard passed the ball to Sissoko as he completed the alley-oop and was knocked down by Portland senior center Joey St. Pierre. It didn’t look good, but Sissoko managed to pull himself up and walk off the court. Sissoko returned to make all three of his awarded free throws, adding to his 11 total points.
The second half for the Spartans consisted of good minutes for a variety of players, something that’s been lacking so far this season.
Hoggard, a player who was short on consistency in the first, became effective offensively in the second as he responded with 12 points and nine assists.
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Brooks is another starter with a solid performance, going 4-4 from the deep.
Despite the absence of Hall and Akins, Brooks really stepped up in Sunday's game, scoring a career-high of 15 points.
Sissoko, Kohler and freshman center Carson Cooper all took turns at the five. Cooper played strong minutes, notching four points and confidently driving to the basket.
Whitens’ stellar performance carried into the second half as he sank two baskets, his first career points as a Spartan. Whitens played efficiently defensively as well.
MSU led the Pilots by eight points in the final minute. Just when it looked like it was over, familiar faces stirred up trouble for the Spartans.
Off turnovers by Hoggard and Hauser, Sjolund and Robertson obtained possession of the ball, both notching two three’s, leaving the scoreboard to read 78-77 with just under 40 seconds left in the game.
Once again, turnovers almost cost MSU the game.
With seven seconds to play, Robertson dove to the basket, but missed the layup resulting in another too-close-for-comfort 78-77 victory for the Spartans.
MSU will head to South Bend, Indiana on Wednesday where it will take on Notre Dame. Tipoff is set for 9:15 p.m.
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