INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan State found a way to finish.
The search continues for No. 4 Kentucky – even with consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe back in action.
Malik Hall forced two extra periods with dunks off inbounds plays, Mady Sissoko delivered two game-changing slams late in the second overtime, and Michigan State rallied to beat No. 4 Kentucky 86-77 on Tuesday night.
“I just saw (coach) Tom (Izzo) in the hallway and I said you were more prepared to finish than we were,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
The Spartans (2-1) were ready thanks in part to what they endured on Friday, when they lost by one point to No. 2 Gonzaga on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
But they also got some help when Oscar Tshiebwe, last season’s consensus national player of the year, fouled out late in the first overtime after scoring 22 points and pulling down 18 rebounds in his season debut for the Wildcats (2-1).
Joey Hauser scored 23 points, Hall had 20 and Sissoko had a career-high 16 points with eight rebounds for the Spartans, who spent most of the second half playing catch-up.
Sissoko changed the tenor of the game with his tiebreaking alley-oop slam with 1:45 left in the second OT.
“There’s nothing better than seeing Mady going up for a lob because you know it’s going to be a dunk,” Hauser said.
And with Tshiebwe on the bench, Michigan State closed it out by outscoring Kentucky 13-1, the final blow coming on another dunk by Sissoko in the final minute.
“Yeah, I set them up. I said, `Let’s just go dunk the the damn ball,” Izzo said sarcastically. “I like dunks probably because I never could.”
Kentucky led 62-60 near the end of regulation when Tshiebwe lost Hall on an inbound pass. Hall took advantage by dunking with 3.7 seconds left.
“Give them credit, they did what they had to do,” Calipari said. “But the (first) out-of-bounds play, that’s something we never do. We just left him.”
It happened again in the first overtime when Hall broke free as the Spartans moved the ball into the front court. He drove in for the dunk to tie it 71-71 with 1.4 seconds left.
After Cason Wallace’s 3-pointer early in the second overtime gave Kentucky a 76-73 lead, the Spartans locked down Kentucky’s shooters and pulled away.
Michigan State: Izzo’s teams always seem to finish stronger than they start and if these Spartans do that again this season, they could be scary. Despite poor early shooting, they overcome a sluggish start to knock off a top-five team.
Kentucky: The Wildcats returned to the venue from their last loss, a first-round NCAA Tournament defeat to Saint Peter’s in March, and left with the same result. Yes, they’re big, long, athletic and defend well. But they’ll need to develop a closing punch.
Michigan State: The Spartans were unranked in the preseason AP Top 25 and again this week. They’ll likely move into the poll after two strong showings against top-five foes.
Kentucky: Calipari’s squad didn’t need Tshiebwe last week. He missed the first two games while recovering from a knee procedure. But when he’s on the floor, the Wildcats are clearly one of the nation’s top teams. They may slide a few spots after this loss but will have a chance to recover – if they can beat No. 2 Gonzaga on the road this weekend.
Dick Vitale returned to ESPN’s broadcast Tuesday night following his battle against cancer. Vitale missed most of last season when his signature voice was impaired by lymphoma and melanoma.
He sat at midcourt, in front of Wildcats fans, and opened the broadcast by thanking everyone who sent text messages and notes of support and acknowledged the famous words of his late friend Jim Valvano – “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up” – inspired him to persevere.
HE SAID IT
“That’s a really good team and that will be a great team,” Izzo said. “So all you Kentucky fans, don’t jump off the ship. I told John, it’s illegal to have that many seniors at Kentucky.”
Michigan State: Hosts Villanova on Friday.
Kentucky: Hosts South Carolina State on Thursday.