Michigan State Spartans

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 29:  Lourawls Nairn Jr. #11 of the Michigan State Spartans defends on a drive by Frank Jackson #15 of the Duke Blue Devils during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 29, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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No. 5 Duke pulls away late to beat Michigan State

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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half as No. 5 Duke pulled away from Michigan State down the stretch in a 78-69 win over the Spartans.

Luke Kennard added 20 points for the Blue Devils, who struggled shooting the ball for much of the game as their rotation was limited to just six players. Mike Krzyzewski started four guards – Allen, Kennard, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones – along with Amile Jefferson, while Chase Jeter chipped in with 22 minutes off the bench.

The good news, at least, is that it looks like the Blue Devils are getting closer to being healthy. Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden warmed up with the team prior to the game and Tatum was in his jersey on the bench. They’re getting closer.

That matters because the single biggest takeaway from Tuesday night’s game was that neither of these teams are anywhere near their best right now.

Duke’s issues are obvious, and ones that I wrote about in this column: They’re missing three first round picks while a fourth, Allen, is playing through a painful toe injury. On the one hand, all this experience is a good thing for guys like Kennard, Jackson and Jeter. On the other hand, it means that there are going to be some guys that will have to adjust to playing significantly fewer minutes once the stars make their way back.

That’s where we are with Duke, and it’s where we’ve been for the last month.

And Michigan State?

Well, they’re still a team going through the growing pains of being young and losing two senior bigs to knee injuries, just like they were when I wrote this column. They’ve shown flashes – the first half tonight, the first 25 minutes against Wichita State, St. John’s – but they’re still not a finished product.

That will come with time. And practice, which the Spartans will get more of now that they’re insane travel schedule has come to an end. This team will be better in March, just like Duke will.

But for now, this is what we get with these two.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Nate Britt #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels highfives teammate Joel Berry II #2 in the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight.

Here is a preview of the 14-game slate.

No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.

Why?

Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.

  • Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.

Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.

Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.

Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.

  • Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.

No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.

Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.

On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.

  • Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
SYRACUSE, NY - DECEMBER 02: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket as Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on December 2, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.

There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.

  • Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.

Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?

  • Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).

Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.

  • Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.

Monday, Nov. 28

  • Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
  • Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.

Tuesday, Nov. 29

  • Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
  • Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
  • Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
    win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
  • N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.

Wednesday, Nov. 30

  • Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
  • Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.

No. 24 Michigan State avoids collapse against Wichita State

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Lourawls Nairn Jr. #11 of the Michigan State Spartans dribbles up court against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Miles Bridges scored 21 points to lead four players in double-figures and Tum Tum Nairn chipped in with 12 assists as No. 24 Michigan State picked up their best win of the season over Wichita State, 77-72.

The Shockers are in something of a rebuilding mode right now, as Gregg Marshall works through how he’s going to replace the duo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but they are still a good, well-coached basketball team.

And the Spartans had this game firmly in had for a good 35 minutes.

A late first-half run – that came when Bridges was on the bench in foul trouble – gave the Spartans a 10-point halftime lead which they pushed to as much as 15 in the second half. But the Shockers made their run, cutting the lead to a single point. If it wasn’t for a couple of hasty jumpers from the Shockers on their last two possessions, Wichita State just might have completed the comeback.

RELATED: Michigan State’s growing pains | Tom Izzo apologizes to team

There are a ways to look at this. On the one hand, it certainly isn’t a good sign that the Spartans blew a big lead, regardless of the opponent. Michigan State committed turnovers, missed open looks and, for the most part, looked like a young team that got nervous trying to close out a win.

But they didn’t give the game away.

They made just enough plays to win the game. Miles Bridges hit a couple of massive jumpers. Cassius Winston hit a critical free throw. Tum Tum had a pair of assists late that helped clinch the win.

Learning how to win, how to close out close games, is a process. It’s a skill. It’s something that freshmen typically have to develop at this level, and if anything, this win feels like a step in that direction.

Whatever the case may be, the Spartans are leaving the Bahamas with a third-place finish, two wins in three games and a record over .500 as they get ready to pay a visit to Duke next week.

It could be much, much worse.

For the Shockers, this was not a great trip. They leave the Bahamas at just 1-2 overall with losses to both Louisville and Michigan State, and for a team from the Missouri Valley with only two more potential quality wins left on their schedule – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – this puts the Shockers somewhat behind the eight-ball when it comes to getting an at-large bid.

Johnathan Motley’s 26 points lead No. 20 Baylor past No. 24 Michigan State

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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No. 24 Michigan State is who we thought they were.

After a flurry of first half threes helped them build a 28-18 lead on No. 20 Baylor, the Spartans were outscored 53-23 over the next 25 minutes, losing to the Bears, 73-58, in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

It’s hard to call that unexpected.

Michigan State is young, they don’t have any veteran size inside and their point guard play is going to be inconsistent until Cassius Winston is ready to play starter’s minutes.

This is a team that is going to go through growing pains. We knew that.

What we didn’t know was just how good this Baylor team was going to be.

The Bears got 26 points, six boards and three assists from Johnathan Motley and 14 points from Jo Lual-Acuil, a pair of seven-footers who have quickly asserted themselves as the best front line in the Big 12 this season. Ishmail Wainwright has been terrific in the two games in the Bahamas, while Manu Lecomte has proven to be, at the very worst, a capable Big 12 guard and, at best, a difference-maker at a playmaking position.

Perhaps the most promising part of this Baylor team is their ability to defend. The 1-1-3 zone that Scott Drew employs flummoxed Oregon earlier this season, and when the Spartans shot them out of it, Baylor was able to lock down while playing man-to-man.

West Virginia has been impressive, and we’ll likely have a better feel for how good they are after the Preseason NIT this week, but I think it is safe to say Baylor is the biggest challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 this season.

No. 24 Spartans top Red Storm 73-62 at Battle 4 Atlantis

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 18:  Miles Bridges #22 of the Michigan State Spartans dunks during the game against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils at the Breslin Center on November 18, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) Michigan State coach Tom Izzo can see the positives and negatives all jumbled together for his 24th-ranked Spartans, from the good stretches where the ball goes inside to the bad ones when his team fires up quick 3-point attempts.

“It’s still not smooth for us,” the Hall of Fame coach said after Wednesday’s 73-62 victory over St. John’s in the Battle 4 Atlantis. “It might not be for a while.”

Freshman Miles Bridges had 22 points and a season-high 15 rebounds to lead the Spartans (3-2), who used a 17-4 burst midway through the second half to pull away late and build a 67-53 lead with about 2 1/2 minutes left.

Eron Harris added 14 points for the Spartans, while Tum Tum Nairn Jr. – a native of nearby Nassau – matched his career high of 13 points in his return to the Bahamas.

Michigan State has had a bumpy start to the season, starting with a loss to Arizona on a last-second basket in the opener. The Spartans managed just 48 points in a loss to current No. 1 Kentucky and barely beat Florida Gulf Coast at home over the weekend. It’s part of a tough opening month that concludes with a trip to preseason No. 1 Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

“There’s some frustrating moments, and it’s not all their fault,” Izzo said. “It’s just the cards we’ve been dealt. … I’m asking a lot of these guys. And you know what? I’m going to keep demanding it because that’s what we do here.”

Marcus LoVett scored 20 points to lead the Red Storm (2-2), who shot around 31 percent and couldn’t answer Michigan State’s clinching push.

“We tried everything – inside, outside, we tried pick and roll,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “We got enough looks but didn’t knock any down. When you shoot 30 percent, you aren’t going to win a game.”

BIG PICTURE

St. John’s: When LoVett was hitting (13 points after halftime), St. John’s was right with Michigan State. But the Red Storm struggled most of the game, while Mullin particularly noted the team’s eight assists as a sign of how the ball “stuck.”

“That’s really not the kind of game I want to play,” Mullin said.

Michigan State: The performance of Bridges and fellow freshman Nick Ward could be a welcome sign of hope for Michigan State’s frontcourt, which is down two big men due to knee injuries. Ward finished with nine points and a season-high 11 rebounds, and the Spartans desperately need more games like that from them going forward.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Spartans have slid significantly in the AP Top 25 from their No. 12 preseason spot, though they could start climbing again by getting through an Atlantis field that also includes No. 10 Louisville and No. 20 Baylor.

DOMINANT BRIDGES

The 6-foot-7 Bridges had a double-double by halftime and finished 9 of 18 from the field, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range. He had three assists and one block in 35 minutes.

“I’m just doing whatever Coach wants me to do,” Bridges said. “Wherever he puts me at, I’m trying to create for others, score for myself, rebound. Like I said, if people double-team me, I can get my teammates open. That’s what I like to do: I like to see my teammates score more than I do.”

TUM TUM’S BIG NIGHT

Nairn, a 5-foot-10 junior, had scored nine points through the first four games but blew past that with 11 after halftime. He hit 3 of 4 3-point attempts after never hitting more than one in any game in his career.

There was also his highlight-reel moment when he threw down a huge dunk in transition to thrill the large gathering of family and friends on hand to catch his return to the Bahamas.

UP NEXT

St. John’s: The Red Storm will face VCU on Thursday in the loser’s bracket on Day 2 of the three-games-in-three-days event.

Michigan State: The Spartans advanced to Thursday’s semifinals to face No. 20 Baylor, which beat VCU earlier Wednesday.

 

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Big Ten confirms that referee was at fault in Michigan State-FGCU ending

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 17:  Head coach Joe Dooley of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Big Ten confirmed what NBC Sports reported last night: That it was an error made by one of the referees – and NOT Michigan State’s timekeeper – that started the clock early on the final play of the Spartans’ win over FGCU.

“After a complete review of the timing error on the game’s final play with 1.6 seconds remaining, it was confirmed that a game official improperly set the clock in motion via his Precision Timing belt pack,” the Big Ten’s statement read. “The subsequent adjudication of rules, allowing for use of the courtside video monitor and a hand-held digital stopwatch to determine whether the shot was released prior to expiration, and if there was any time remaining in the game, were properly administered.”

The conference did not name the official.

FGCU had the ball under the Michigan State basket, down 78-77 with 1.6 seconds left last night at the Breslin Center. On the final play, the clock was started when the inbounder threw the pass as opposed to when it was caught by the FGCU player. That player, Antravious Simmons, caught the ball as the horn sounded and rushed a potential game-winning shot at the rim.

The officials went to the monitor to review the play and ruled that the game was over.