For the second straight day, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo thanked some late-game heroes who helped the Spartans overcome their own misgivings.
Julius Marble II and A.J. Hoggard delivered critical plays when MSU needed another late rally Thursday, this time against No. 21 Connecticut. And the Spartans managed to ride the waves again to move into Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
Marble scored eight straight points in the final 3:07 after MSU fell behind by seven points, with Hoggard setting him up twice and himself getting to the free-throw line to give the Spartans the lead for good with 30.3 seconds left. Malik Hall and Tyson Walker finished off the comeback with three more free throws in the closing seconds to deliver MSU a 64-60 victory.
“The last 30 seconds, there’s defining moments in every season, and it’s kind of early,” Izzo said by Zoom after the game. “But when you went through a year like we went through last year, we just beat a hell of a team. … I felt like we played really good, too, so I’m gonna give us credit in a lot of ways.”
MSU (5-1) will face either Virginia Commonwealth or Baylor at 11 a.m. Friday (ESPN) at Paradise Island resort in Nassau, Bahamas.
Gabe Brown led the Spartans with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Marble finished with a career-high 15 points — 13 of them after halftime — on 5 of 7 shooting to go with four rebounds.
Hall went scoreless and missed all five shots he took against the Huskies but hit both free throws for his only two points with 17.2 seconds to play. MSU scored the final nine points in the last 1:41.
“I think I think it’s a testament to our team and just never giving up, really,” said Hall, who made all nine of his shots Wednesday to score a career-high 24 against Loyola Chicago. “It’s something that coach has harped on us from the very beginning, just to make the winning plays. … I think towards the end of the game, we just made those winning plays and we got done what we needed to.”
The Spartans cut down their turnovers and applied plenty of intensity in the first half, scoring the first six points and jumping out to a quick 14-point lead against a fatigued Huskies squad coming off a 115-109 double-overtime win over No. 22 Auburn on Wednesday.
But UConn (5-1) used runs of 12-3 early in the half to pull close and a 13-2 run after the midpoint to seemingly seize control. Tyrese Martin’s breakaway dunk after MSU’s final turnover of the game, when Walker got stripped by RJ Cole, put UConn ahead 55-48 with 4:42 to play.
That would be the Spartans’ last turnover. Brown responded with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:52 to go that ended a 5-minute-plus MSU scoring drought. And then Marble took over.
He Marble scored a pair of free throws and got a layup off a dribble-drive, wrap-around pass from Hoggard with 2:32 to play, then pulled MSU within a point on a transition layup over Sanogo with 1:07 left — again off a Hoggard rebound and pass on the runout — and defended UConn’s Adama Sanogo and forced him into a miss with 42 seconds left.
MSU starting center Marcus Bingham Jr. finished with seven points and seven rebounds but was just 3 of 9 shooting and had two turnovers and no blocks. The 6-9, 240-pound Sanogo led UConn with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought we got tired. Marky got a little tired,” Izzo said. “But if you gotta carry that load that he’s got to guard, there’s a reason to get tired.”
After Marble’s run pulled the Spartans within a point, 60-59, Hoggard drove on the ensuing possession after an MSU timeout, and Cole was called for a questionable foul that appeared on replay to be all ball. Hoggard hit both free throws, then Hall got a steal at the other end on Martin and hit his shots after getting fouled to help seal the game.
UConn coach Danny Hurley became apoplectic on the court at refs but calmly explained what he saw afterward.
“That’s a tough call. I mean, I watched it — that’s a jump ball,” Hurley said. “We lost because we made a lot of mistakes and Michigan State did not, they made the plays. But yeah, I don’t understand what happened there.”
Hoggard and Walker combined for 11 points, eight assists and just three turnovers to earn their coaches praise after the point guard tandem had nine of MSU’s 20 giveaways against Loyola.
“I gotta give both our point guards credit. I’ve written them like Seattle Slew for the last couple of weeks,” Izzo said. “And I think at the same time, those guys really stepped up today and guarded pretty good.”
MSU held UConn scoreless over the final 1:41, and the Spartans overcame eight early second-half turnovers – all of which came before the final 4:48 recovery run. The Spartans also held the Huskies to 2-for-16 from 3-point range.
“Once we get to the tournament, it’s gonna be the exact same way,” Brown said. “My freshman year (the 2019 Final Four run), I was in games just like that, that came down to the wire — Duke, Texas Tech, things like that. So this was a game where we got prepared for it, and it helped us.”
MSU came out aggressive against the Huskies. The Spartans jumped out to a 6-0 lead, much like they did in their 63-61 win over Loyola Chicago in their tournament opener. This time, though, Izzo’s team sustained the energy by avoiding turnovers and keeping Brown out of foul trouble.
The senior captain hit two of MSU’s first three shots and scored 11 first-half points. Freshman Pierre Brooks added five surprising points off the bench in his first significant action to put the Spartans up 32-18 to force Hurley to call timeout with 3:32 left in the half. The Huskies scored six straight, four of them at the free-throw line, to trim MSU’s lead to 32-24 at half despite the Spartans turning the ball over just four times after giving it up 14 times before intermission against Loyola.
Then MSU turned it over five times early in the second half as UConn ripped off a 12-3 run that tied the game 41-all with 15:16 left on a Martin block of a Brown jumper and ensuing breakaway dunk.
The Spartans held the Huskies to just 25.8% shooting in the first half but 45% in the second. UConn made just 2 of its last 12 attempts in the last 4:12 however after a second fastbreak slam by Martin, who finished with 16 points and 12 boards.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball’s win over UConn may be defining moment
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