Michigan State was cruising, heading toward a comfortable win over a Villanova team that appeared to be a bigger brand than a threat to this battle-tested Spartan team. Breslin Center was charged up through much of the final 13-plus minutes after an electrifying transition dunk from springy sophomore guard Jaden Akins.
In their last game in their home building the rest of this month, the Spartans were on their way to delivering another feel-good win over a big-name opponent on the heels of a nail-biting win over No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday.
After jumping ahead of the Wildcats by 16 in the second half, though, MSU had to sweat out the finish Friday night. The Spartans found themselves in a four-point game with less than 3 minutes left, and their lead was down to one with 49 ticks left on the clock after a stolen inbounds pass led to a 3-pointer from Jordan Longino.
When things got tight, the Spartans turned to Tyson Walker to lead them to the finish line. His buckets pushed MSU’s lead back out to seven points twice in the final 3 minutes, and his free throw with 16 seconds left provided the two-point cushion the Spartans needed to win 73-71 after Villanova’s final set with 7.1 seconds remaining careened off course .
Not as comfortable as it once appeared, but another test passed by MSU early in this grueling non-conference season, which continues next week in Portland, Oregon, in the Phil Knight Invitational.
Walker finished with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting and added five assists and three rebounds. Forward Joey Hauser and point guard AJ Hoggard both scored 13 points. Hoggard flirted with a triple-double, contributing 10 assists against three turnovers and eight rebounds. Forward Malik Hall, who grabbed the rebound to squash Villanova’s last possession, joined them in double figures with 12 points, and Akins posted nine points and five rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.
The Spartans lived off 3-pointers early in this one, with five players combining to hit eight in the first half. Triples from Hauser and Malik Hall staked out a 6-0 lead for the Spartans, who continued to fire away as Villanova offered few good looks at the rim.
Jaden Akins’ 3-pointer put MSU ahead by five before Villanova put together its best stretch of the period, a 10-2 run that made it 14-11 Wildcats.
The Spartans erased the Wildcats’ three-point edge with back-to-back 3-pointers from Hoggard and Walker, and they would steadily build their lead over the final 7:17 of the period. Brandon Slater’s layup drew Villanova within two points at the 5:36 mark, but MSU ran off the next nine points. Walker buried his second 3-pointer of the half with 58 seconds left for a 12-point lead, and MSU would go into the break leading 34-24 after Eric Dixon’s dunk.
Four more 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half increased the Spartans’ lead to north of a dozen. It was a 16-point gap for the first time after back-to-back jumpers from Walker. Another Walker jumper made it 61-45 MSU with 8:09 left.
Villanova started eating into the margin with six unanswered points before Hoggard stalled the run with a layup. Chris Arcidiacono’s free throw and a 3-pointer from Brendan Hausen completed a 10-2 run that put the Wildcats within single digits.
After a jumper from Hall, Villanova scored the next six points to make it 65-61 Spartans. Hoggard drove for another layup with 1:05 left for a six-point lead before Caleb Daniels scored in the paint and Longino’s 3-pointer made it a single-digit game.
Dixon was a consistent force down low for the visitors, finishing with 24 points and nine rebounds. Slater scored 16 points and Daniels came away with 13 points.
This story will be updated.
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