The setting was incredible at the Armed Forces Classic. Two of college basketball's modern blue-bloods squared off on the deck of the USS Lincoln in San Diego Bay on Veterans Day. The two teams then proceeded to treat the military personnel and fans in attendance to a basketball game that few will ever forget.
Unfortunately for Spartan fans, Michigan State missed on a last-second three-pointer from sophomore guard Jaden Akins and came up just short. The No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the Michigan State Spartans by a final score of 64-63.
Junior center Mady Sissoko easily played the best game of his Spartan career on the biggest stage. Sissoko led the team with 14 points and nine rebounds, but fouled out with 1:51 minutes to play.
Guards Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard both contributed 12 points each and a total of nine assists. Senior forward Malik Hall scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Forward Joey Hauser struggled with foul trouble as well. Hauser fouled out after playing just 19 minutes, missed all five of his shots from the field, and scored just two points.
The Spartans played a strong first half and led by seven at the half. Michigan State led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but foul trouble, poor second half shooting (just 5-for-20), and playing against perhaps the best player in college basketball in Gonzaga’s All-American center Drew Timme doomed the Spartans late.
The teams traded baskets in the opening minutes. By the second media timeout, Gonzaga held a 11-10 lead with both teams shooting around 36 percent from the field.
Midway through the first half, the Spartans surged into a small lead by focusing on getting to the rim. At the under-eight-minute media timeout, the Spartans led 21-17. Michigan State was able to maintain this narrow lead and even extend it in the final minute of the first half, highlighted by a beautiful lob pass from Walker and an even better finish by freshman guard Tre Holloman as time expired to give Michigan State a 38-31 lead at the break.
At the half, Michigan State was shooting 50 percent from the floor (16-for-32) while holding Gonzaga to just 10-for-29 (35 percent). The Spartans outrebounded Gonzaga (20 to 19), had two fewer turnovers (11 to nine), and outscored Gonzaga in the paint (26-to-14).
Timme played only 13 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and was even outscored by Sissoko, nine-to-10. Mady led all scorers with those 10 points at the half. Hall and Walker both chipped in seven points, while Hoggard contributed five points and five assists with just two turnovers in the first 20 minutes of action.
Michigan State might have even had a bigger lead, but the Spartans missed seven free throws and Hauser played only six minutes due to picking up two early fouls.
To open the second half, Michigan State continued to pound the ball inside and Gonzaga continued to turn the ball over. The Spartans drew five fouls and drained seven free throws in the first three minutes to build a 12-point lead before Gonzaga couch Mark Few called a time out in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
And stop the bleeding, it did. Gonzaga proceeded to go on a 9-0 run following the timeout, forcing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to call a timeout of his own with 13:27 to play and the Spartans suddenly clinging to a 45-42 lead.
The trips to the free throw line early in the second period obscured the fact that the Spartans missed their first seven shots in the half. Hall and Sissoko also had to spend some time on the bench with three fouls each.
The Spartans were able to weather the storm, but continued to shoot poorly in the second half. By the time the under-eight-minute media timeout was reached, the Spartans were shooting only 2-of-12 from the floor, while Gonzaga was shooting 8-for-16. With just over seven minutes to play. Michigan State was clinging to a 53-50 lead with both Hall and Sissoko on the bench with four fouls.
In the closing minutes, Gonzaga turned to All-American center Timme, who scored 11 of oh his team’s final 16 points. The Bulldogs tied the game with 5:15 remaining on a three-point play from Timme. Two minutes later, Gonzaga took its first lead since the 10-minute mark of the first half on a fast break, put-back layup to go up 61-59. The teams traded points in the final minutes, but the Spartans would not lead again.
With two minutes to play, Sissoko was whistled for his fifth foul while jousting for position with Timme in the paint. Timme would hit one of two free throws to give Gonzaga a one-point lead. With both Hauser and Sissoko fouled out of the game, Coach Izzo decided to go small with Hall (who had four fouls) guarding Timme in the final two minutes.
The gambit almost worked, as Gonzaga missed a three-pointer and turned the ball over in its final two possessions of the game. The Spartans got the ball back, down one point with just over 30 seconds to play. In the final seconds, Walker appeared to slip slightly at the elbow, which messed up the timing of the play with only four seconds left on the clock. A desperation three-pointer from Akins was the best shot that the Spartans could muster once the play broke down.
Michigan State falls to 1-1 on the young season and the schedule does not get any easier. Next up for the Spartans are the No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic. That game will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in Indianapolis. That game tips off at 7 p.m. Eastern Time and will be televised on ESPN.