For the second day in a row, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo thanked some late heroes who helped the Spartans overcome their own concerns.
Julius Marble II and AJ Hoggard delivered critical play as MSU needed another late rally Thursday, this time against No. 21 in Connecticut. And the Spartans managed to ride the waves again to move into Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
Marble scored eight points in a row in the final 3:07 after MSU were seven points behind, with Hoggard putting him up twice and even coming to the free-throw line to give the Spartans the lead forever with 30.3 seconds left. Malik Hall and Tyson Walker ended the comeback with three more free throws in the final seconds to deliver MSU a 64-60 victory.
“The last 30 seconds are crucial moments in every season and it’s a little early,” Izzo of Zoom said after the match. “But when you went through a year that we went through last year, we just beat a damn team. … I felt like we played really well too, so I want to give us credit in a lot of ways.”
MSU (5-1) meets either Virginia Commonwealth or Baylor at 11 a.m. Friday (ESPN) at the Paradise Island resort in Nassau, Bahamas.
Gabe Brown led the Spartans with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Marble finished with career-high 15 points – 13 of them after the break – on 5 of 7 shots left with four rebounds.
Hall went goalless and missed all five shots he took against the Huskies, but hit both penalty throws for his only two points with 17.2 seconds left. MSU scored the last nine points in the final 1:41.
“I think I think it’s a testament to our team and I just never give up,” said Hall, who made all nine of his shots on Wednesday to score a career-high 24 against Loyola Chicago. “It’s something the coach has been hesitant about us from the very beginning, just to make the winning games. … I think towards the end of the game we just made those winning games and we got to do what we should.”
The Spartans reduced their turnover and used lots of intensity in the first half, scoring the first six points and jumping out to a quick 14-point lead against a tired Huskies team that came after a double overtime victory of 115-109 over no. 22 Auburn Wednesday.
But UConn (5-1) used 12-3 runs early in the half to get close and a 13-2 run after midfield to seemingly seize control. Tyrese Martin’s outburst after MSU’s last turnover of the game, when Walker was stripped by RJ Cole, brought UConn ahead 55-48 with 4:42 left.
That would be the last turnover of the Spartans. Brown responded with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:52 left, which ended a 5-minute MSU scoring drought. And then Marble took over.
He Marble scored a couple of free throws and got a layup from a dribble-drive, wrap-around pass from Hoggard with 2:32 left, then pulled MSU within a point on a transitional layup over Sanogo with 1:07 left – again off a Hoggard rebound and pass on runout – and defended UConn’s Adama Sanogo and forced him to a miss with 42 seconds left.
MSU Start Center Marcus Bingham Jr. finished with seven points and seven rebounds but was only 3 of 9 shots and had two turnovers and no blocks. Sanogo with 6-9, 240 pounds led UConn with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought we were tired. Marky got a little tired,” Izzo said, “but if you have to carry the burden he has to guard, there’s a reason to get tired.”
After Marbles’ run drew the Spartans within one point, 60-59, Hoggard ran on the subsequent possession after an MSU timeout, and Cole was called for a dubious foul that at replay appeared to be completely ball. Hoggard hit both penalty throws, after which Hall got a theft at the other end of Martin and hit his shot after getting a foul to help close out the match.
The referee showed UConn’s coach Danny Hurley the yellow card after a particularly nasty challenge.
“It’s a tough call. I mean, I saw it – it’s a bouncy ball,” Hurley said. “We lost because we made a lot of mistakes, and Michigan State did not, they made plays. But yeah, I do not 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 have to give both of our point guards credit. I’ve been writing them as Seattle Slew for the last few weeks,” Izzo said. “And I think at the same time, those guys really went up today and guarded pretty well.”
MSU kept UConn goalless over the final 1:41, and the Spartans overcame eight early turnovers in the second half – 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.
“When we get to the tournament, it will be exactly the same way,” Brown said. “My freshman year (2019 Final Four race), I was in games the way it came down to my head – Duke, Texas Tech, that sort of thing. So this was a match where we were prepared for it. , and it helped us. ”
MSU came out aggressively against the Huskies. The Spartans jumped out to a 6-0 lead, much like they did in their 63-61 victory over Loyola Chicago in their tournament opener. This time, however, Izzo’s team retained the energy by avoiding turnover and keeping Brown out of bad trouble.
The senior captain hit two of MSU’s first three shots and scored 11 points in the first half. Freshman Pierre Brooks added five surprising points from the bench in his first significant action to bring 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 on the free-throw line, to trim MSU’s lead to 22-24 at halftime, despite the Spartans turning the ball around just four times after giving it up 14 times before the break against Loyola.
Then MSU turned it around five times early in the second half as UConn tore off a 12-3 run that equalized the match 41-all with 15:16 left on a Martin block by a brown jumper and subsequent breakaway dunk.
The Spartans held the Huskies to only 25.8% shooting in the first half, but 45% in the second. UConn made only 2 of its last 12 attempts in the last 4:12, however, after another fastbreak slam by Martin, which finished with 16 points and 12 boards.
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