Following an 18-point loss to the unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish Wednesday night on the road, Michigan State returned home Sunday night for its Big Ten opener against Northwestern.
Despite a close final few minutes, MSU was unable to tie it up, falling to the Wildcats 70-63.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Wildcats were 5-2, following an 87-58 defeat to Pittsburgh in the final ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Spartan starting five had an unexpected face on Sunday night. Sophomore guard Jaden Akins stepped in for junior guard A.J. Hoggard, who has started in all eight non-conference games this season.
The remaining four looked familiar, with junior center Mady Sissoko, sophomore guard Pierre Brooks II, graduate student forward Joey Hauser and senior guard Tyson Walker.
It was uncertain whether Akins would make an appearance in the game at all, let alone the starting minutes. He returned from his time off with a scoring hunger, netting the game-opening three and putting the Spartans on the board within the first 30 seconds of play. Akins went on to play 13 minutes in the first half, taking and missing on one other shot.
The Spartans started strong offensively, with a variety of players picking up points. Brooks collected six points, all from beyond the arc along with Hauser and Hoggard notching five points each.
MSU was strong off the glass, picking up 14 rebounds, compared to Northwestern’s 11.
Akins was the first piece missing from MSU’s defense. Now Michigan State's just waiting on senior forward Malik Hall, expected to be ready to play by Christmas time, following his three-week hiatus due to injury.
Senior guard Boo Buie and junior guard Ty Berry led the Wildcats in points in the first half with nine each. Both Wildcats carried the team in rebounds, Berry collecting four and Buie with three.
The game remained close in the first half, with the green and white hanging onto a short lead until midway through the half when it became a back-and-forth affair. Despite the lead early on, MSU fell short in the final minutes of the first, leaving the half down one possession, 38-37.
The score remained neck-and-neck to open up the second half.
Head Coach Tom Izzo switched things up early, putting freshmen center Jaxon Kohler, freshman guard Tre Holloman and Hoggard in for Akins, Sissoko and Walker.
MSU fell behind early on, trailing the Wildcats by six points midway through the second half. The Spartans' slow start in the second half can be attributed to consistent turnovers, an ongoing obstacle for the green and white.
MSU began to make its comeback midway through the half, starting off with another basket from deep for Brooks, lighting the Breslin up once again.
The momentum continued to build up offensively once Sissoko picked up four points off back-to-back dunks.
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Both teams collected substantial fouls, MSU leading with 17 by the end of the matchup. Walker battled foul trouble early in the second half as he totaled four personal fouls, causing him to sit until the one minute mark.
Once again, MSU kept the game close up until the final few seconds. With just a minute remaining, MSU trailed Northwestern by three.
Hoggard sank two points, leaving the Spartans down one with 45 seconds to rewrite their conference opener score.
Buie followed Hoggard's basket with one of his own, bringing the lead back to three for the Wildcats.
MSU then rushed to the basket, but Hauser failed to capitalize on a short jumper.
Despite a strong effort midway through the second half, MSU failed to tie it up, falling to the Wildcats by seven.
Michigan State will be on the road Wednesday night to face Penn State. The game tips off at 6:30 p.m. and will be televised on Big Ten Network.
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