Honolulu — Michigan State started out strong in its first game of the season in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Friday night, but couldn’t hold off the Arizona Wildcats, losing 65-63 in the opening game of the Armed Forces Classic doubleheader.
Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 7.0 seconds left in the game to tie the score at 63-63 but, out of the timeout that followed, Arizona’s Kadeem Allen went the length of the court for an uncontested layup to give Arizona a hard-fought victory.
In his first career start, freshman Miles Bridges scored 21 points and had seven rebounds. His 21 points were the most scored by a Michigan State freshman in his first game since Jay Vincent scored 25 in 1979.
“We have to stay focused defensively because that wins us games,” Bridges said. “If it would have went to overtime, I feel like we could have won the game. (Allen’s winning basket) was my fault. I should have been help-side when he went for the layup. That’s on me.”
Sophomore Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward, another freshman, each scored nine points and senior Eron Harris chipped in seven points.
As expected with a lineup that featured four freshmen, the Spartans’ play was sloppy. Michigan State turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, 19 for the game.
“Turnovers were ridiculous,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We just tried to do too much. Those turnovers led to layups and three-point plays.”
Bridges had seven of the team’s first nine points as the Spartans jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Spartans would lead 19-4 before Arizona came back, eventually tying the game at 21-21 and leading by nine in the second half.
After Arizona scored its first basket following a called timeout, Michigan State freshman Joshua Langford and Harris each answered with 3-pointers. After Joshua Langford’s layup with 13:48 left in the first half, the Spartans led the Wildcats, 19-4.
Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Kobi Simmons in the first half, who finished with 15 points by halftime and finished with 18.
Michigan State entered the bonus with 9:26 left in the half when Arizona picked up its seventh foul. It didn’t benefit the Spartans, though, as Harris and Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. each missed the front end of 1-and-1 free throw opportunities.
Michigan State’s Kenny Goins picked up his second foul with 5:40 left in the half when he moved during a screen at the top of the key. Arizona followed with a 3-point basket on its next possession to take its first lead of the game, 24-21.
After Arizona stretched its lead to 28-23, Michigan State started working the ball down low to Ward, who slammed home a pass from Bridges and sunk three of four free throws. Bridges grabbed a rebound and put it back to draw Michigan State within four at the end of the first half, 34-30.
Things started to look like they were getting away from Michigan State as Arizona went on a 9-4 run to start the second half. The Wildcats had built their biggest lead of the game, 43-34, and Michigan State big man Kenny Goins was down and needed to be helped off the court with a hurt left knee.
But it was the Spartans turn to regroup with a 10-1 run. McQuaid hit a 3-pointer to pull the Spartans to within six, 43-37. That was followed by Ward’s putback with 15:34 left in the game. Bridges’ dunk made it 44-41 and another McQuaid 3-pointer tied the game at 44-44. Goins returned, giving the Spartans the presence they needed down low.
“To compete like we did ... there’s a positive in that,” Izzo said. “But we’ve got a long way to go.”
Nairn blew by his defender for a layup to give Michigan State the lead, 48-46. Alvin Ellis’ 3-pointer on an assist from Nairn gave the Spartans a 51-46 lead with 10:35 left in the game. Arizona once again called a timeout and responded with a 4-0 run out of the timeout to cut Michigan State’s lead to one, 51-50.
After a double technical foul on Michigan State’s Bridges and Arizona’s Jackson-Cartwright — who wouldn’t stop talking to each other even after the referee warned them — Harris gave the Spartans a 58-57 lead with a jump shot in the lane.
An Arizona fast break basket gave the Wildcats a 59-58 win and Michigan State called a 30-second timeout with 3:09 left in the game. The play out of the timeout was for Bridges. Isolated at the top of the key, Bridges beat his man to the rim to give Michigan State the lead, 60-59.
After an Arizona basket, McQuaid missed a 3-pointer and the Wildcats hit another basket to extend their lead to three, 63-60, causing Michigan State to call a timeout with 35.2 seconds remaining. After a missed shot by McQuaid, Bridges got the offensive rebound with the possession eventually leading to Nairn’s tying shot.
After a scramble on the possession, Nairn hit a three-pointer with 7.0 seconds left in the game to tie the score at 63 but, out of the timeout that followed, Arizona’s Kadeem Allen went the length of the court for a contested lay up to give Arizona a hard-fought victory, 65-63.
All four of Michigan State’s freshmen were on the court at the same time at the 16:25 mark in the first half and combined for 35 of Michigan State’s 63 points.
... Nairn’s 3-pointer was his first three since Nov. 27, 2015 vs. Boise State. He made three 3-pointers all of last season.
... The Spartans assisted on 15 of their 25 made baskets.
David Harns is a freelance writer.