No. 12 Michigan State was without senior forward Malik Hall and second guard Jaden Akins, and it showed Thursday night.
The shorthanded Spartans fell 81-70 to 18th-ranked Alabama in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational. Senior guard Tyson Walker and junior guard AJ Hoggard had 21 and 18 points, respectively, but the players’ offensive contributions were minimal.
Starters on Michigan State’s Thanksgiving night included Walker, Hoggard, forward Joey Hauser, junior center Mady Sissoko and junior guard Pierre Brooks, his first start of the season.
Alabama’s length worried MSU from the start, as the Crimson Tide hit three straight alley-oops and took an early lead over greens and whites.
New faces took the place in the first, including tough minutes from freshmen centers Jaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper and guard Tre Holloman. Graduate guard Jason Whitens even made a brief appearance for three minutes early in the half, just his second time seeing the floor this season.
MSU started strong on the glass, bouncing off their opponent in the first game and grabbing 19 rebounds compared to Alabama’s 16.
However, turnovers continued to be a weak link for the Spartans, amassing seven in the first 20 minutes.
Alabama freshman guard Brandon Miller kept the Spartans on their toes, scoring 17 points for the Crimson Tide in the first game.
MSU crawled back mid-half as Walker broke the goal drought for the Spartans.
It was all a tie, 15-15, with 10 minutes left at half time. MSU brought the Heat offensively and secured a seven-point lead with 5:41 to play.
MSU struggled defensively throughout the half and felt the loss of Hall at that end of the court.
Alabama snuck back in the final minute, sinking two free throws and two 3-pointers, one of which Miller collected by two seconds to play for the quick break. Ultimately, he took the lead at halftime with 42:37.
The second half was another rocky start for MSU. As expected from Izzo, Alabama’s 3’s stand out and make it difficult for the Spartans to stay strong offensively.
Alabama started and comfortably held its lead throughout the second half. The Crimson Tide led by nine (50-41) in the second minute, their lead only increasing from there.
Foul trouble spread to Kohler and earned three personal fouls, two in the second half.
Holloman set the first 3-pointer of the game for the Green-Whites with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game. The Spartans only shot 4-14 from beyond the arc.
But MSU continued to lack offense, sitting 16-43 in field goals midway through the second half. After Holloman’s basket, the Spartans remained goalless for four minutes, interrupted by a layup by Walker after a turnover.
Walker served as the backbone for MSU’s offense during the remaining half, along with Hoggard, who was a career-high with 18 points.
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MSU pushed into the single digits with four minutes left (72-63) and again at 1:48 (76-67).
But MSU’s late push didn’t make it. The Spartans failed to seal the comeback, falling 81-70 to the Crimson Tide in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational.
The green-whites meet Oregon at the Moda Center on Friday. Tipoff will be at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN.
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