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MSU sees progress but falls to No. 6 Baylor in Battle 4 Atlantis finale

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

When time passes, there will be plenty of positives for Michigan State to take from its three days in the Bahamas.

The Spartans were gritty, winning two games over solid competition, getting past Loyola Chicago in the opener before beating what could end up being a very good Connecticut team in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thursday.

And for a half on Friday, the Spartans went toe-to-toe with No. 6 Baylor, the defending national champion that sure doesn’t look it has lost all that much.

Michigan State forward Gabe Brown (44) goes to the basket as Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) defends.

Of course, it was also the second half on Friday that showed just how far Michigan State has to go as Baylor overwhelmed the Spartans to close, blowing open a close game and cruising to a 75-58 victory in the tournament’s championship game.

“A tournament like this you hope to get something out of it that your team can learn from,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I told them I thought we played two-and-a-half games worth of pretty good basketball, maybe two-and-a-quarter with part of that Loyola game.

“But I didn't think we competed like we needed to (today). But the best team definitely won the tournament. … Baylor's definitely head shoulders, I think, better than most of the teams in the tournament. So that's who should win the game and they did win the game.”

BOX SCORE: Baylor 75, Michigan State 58

Michigan State (5-2) was in the fight for the first half, taking a 36-31 lead with just more than five minutes play. But Baylor took over from there, scoring seven in a row to close the half while putting together a 24-6 run to take control of the game.

“They are who I thought we were,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said of the Bears. “You’ve got to have great toughness to win three games in three days. They were mature the whole time, focused. It was a business trip for us, and now we get to go on (water) slides and have fun.”

There was plenty of fun for Baylor (7-0) from late in the first half to the end of the game. James Akinjo scored 15 points to lead the Bears while Kendall Brown added 12, Adam Flagler scored 11 and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua chipped in 10.

“The players deserve most credit because they're the ones that execute and do a great job,” Drew said. “I thought James really ran a great floor game and Adam, when he ran the point. And then I thought defensively these guys in the second half imposed their will and we got out in transition because of it.”

It was surely an impressive performance for Baylor, but Michigan State is kicking itself for how it played over the final 20 minutes. Gabe Brown scored 13 but had only two in the second half. Freshman Jaden Akins was a bright spot with a career-high 12 points, but the Spartans turned the ball over 19 times with Baylor scoring 22 points off the giveaways.

“We are making some progress,” Izzo said. “We're going to leave here feeling really good about a lot of things, but I haven't felt good about our turnovers since the season started. So we're gonna have to look at making some adjustments there and we will.”

The defensive lapses were also glaring as Baylor made six of its first seven shots in the second half with four either layups or dunks.

“I just felt like overall we didn't come out to play in second half,” Brown said. “As a team, we’ve got to do better than that. And coach was harping on it coming out, being aggressive and bringing back Michigan State basketball. In the second half we didn’t do that.”

It was more disappointing considering how things started. It was another quick beginning as both Michigan State and Baylor showed no ill effects of playing a third game in three days.

After Baylor opened with a 9-3 surge, Michigan State responded, taking a 14-11 lead on a three-point play from Julius Marble. The back and forth continued for much of the half as each team shot the ball well. The Spartans were 14-for-27, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range, while the Bears hit 15 of 30 shots, making five 3-pointers.

Michigan State also controlled the glass, outrebounding Baylor, 18-11. And when the Spartans reeled off six straight points, they had a 36-31 lead with 2:27 to play.  But Michigan State was shut out the rest of the way as Baylor put together a 7-0 run to close the half, taking a 38-36 lead into the locker room.

“Everybody always says how important physical toughness is,” Izzo said. “I'd rather be mentally tough and physically weak than mentally weak and physically tough. And today was a day when we did not show it mentally.”

The momentum did not shift over the break as Baylor took control to open the second half. The Bears dominated the glass, outrebounding the Spartans 12-3 over the first 10 minutes while taking advantage of a Michigan State defense that began to fall apart.

By the time Baylor’s lead reached 52-42, things had gotten out of hand. The Bears continued to pour it on, pushing the lead to 63-46 with 10:09 to play after scoring six in a row.

It was during the second half, however, that Akins had his best moments. And it could lead to some changes in the rotation moving forward.

Michigan State got within 12 with just more than five minutes to play, but the Spartans failed to string together many stops from that point and continued to turn the ball over as the Bears put the game away.

“I thought he played with as much energy as anybody I've had in a while,” Izzo said of the freshman guard. “And yet still pretty much under control. So defensively and running the lanes, he was phenomenal. That's going to really help us as we try to figure out who's going to be in the actual playing group because there's going to be a few changes.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau