“If you have a solid program, you shouldn’t need a wake up call,” Tom Izzo said in his postgame press conference. Even so, his Spartans should take their first loss in an opener in East Lansing since 1970 as a call to action.
Michigan State fell in the regular season opener at the Breslin Center 79-76 in overtime to a scrappy James Madison team in a mistake-riddled performance. It’s James Madison’s second win over a ranked team in program history - the first since 1992 when Lefty Driesell’s Dukes took down Cal in a neutral site game in New Jersey.
How did this happen? Here are the moments that made the difference.
1) The Very Beginning
Right from the beginning, things felt a bit off. Mady Sissoko won the opening tipoff, leading to a missed three pointer from Malik Hall. JMU snagged the rebound, and Noah Freidel drilled a three of his own on the other end, giving the Dukes a 3-0 lead early on. JMU took control of the first quarter of the ballgame, stretching their early lead to 22-9 by the 10 minute mark. With 7 minutes to play, JMU held their largest lead of the night, 25-12 and were solidly outplaying MSU in every facet. Like the Tennessee exhibition, MSU dug themselves a deep hole from the beginning.
2) First Half Perseverance from James Madison
“We just dealt with a lot of adversity” JMU’s coach Mark Byington mentioned in his press conference, and they definitely overcame that adversity. After building that 13 point lead in the first half, the Dukes seemed to feel the pressure of the moment, as the crowd was loud and involved, and the talented Spartans seemed to find something in Tyson Walker and Coen Carr.
The Dukes, specifically Terrence Edwards and TJ Bickerstaff, kept things going. Edwards and Bickerstaff were the class of the JMU roster, tallying 24 and 21 points respectively. Bickerstaff added 14 rebounds to complete the double double.
3) Second Half Answers from JMU
“They played harder than us, played stronger than us,” a clearly disappointed Tom Izzo said at the podium after the loss. He was right. The Dukes never relented, even after MSU came out after halftime looking like a team determined to avoid the upset against a mid-major that brought pluckiness and skill to the table.
With 18:04 left in regulation, MSU tied the game for the first time, evening the score at 37. TJ Bickerstaff answered with the next two baskets. With 15:16 left, Jaden Akins gave MSU its first lead of the game, but that jumper was immediately answered by a three pointer by James Madison. The Spartans’ largest lead was 6, with 8:35 left in regulation, and they led by 4 with 1:26 on the clock. JMU had an answer for everything, and TJ Bickerstaff was largely to blame, right down to the tying jumper with 30 seconds on the clock. MSU had the ball as time expired, but Walker couldn’t get the final shot to fall.
And with this, we’ve got bonus basketball. MSU and JMU are tied at 68 pic.twitter.com/CJYyumaTHq— Andy Welch (@AndrewMWelch) November 7, 2023
In overtime, Tyson Walker was the only Spartan to score, and after hitting 1 of 2 free throws to bring MSU within a point, Raekwon Horton scored his only 3 points of the night, draining the shot of the night with 10 seconds on the clock.
And that’s the way it goes. JMU gets the upset win 79-76 pic.twitter.com/5Qed3nMIa6— Andy Welch (@AndrewMWelch) November 7, 2023
4) MSU’s Mistakes
MSU was 1-20 from three point range, and were 23 of 40 from the free throw line. In looking at the stat sheet, it looks like Tyson Walker had a tremendous game, with 35 points, but Tom Izzo made sure to emphasize that Walker “didn’t play well,” as Coen Carr was the only player on the roster the longtime coach thought had a good game. Carr definitely brought a spark, along with 14 points, but the freshman is still a freshman.
Most of the MSU roster had an abysmal game. Walker had tremendous numbers, scoring 35 points. Jaden Akins had a great rebounding night, hauling in 11, along with a couple timely baskets, but those were the highlights from the experienced players.
Carson Cooper was a non-factor, failing to score, and only grabbing 4 rebounds in 17 minutes. Mady Sissoko fouled out late, and only scored 4 points and added 4 rebounds. MSU’s only three pointer came from Tre Holloman, who played well defensively, but only scored those 3 points. Malik Hall grabbed 6 rebounds, but only scored 4 points and was ice cold from the field, right from the first possession of the night.
James Madison is a good team, but in order to get the win, the Dukes needed MSU to make a remarkable number of errors, and the Spartans happily obliged.
We’ll see whether MSU takes this as the wake up call it should be on Thursday night when Southern Indiana visits the Breslin Center.