The opening game of the Champions Classic on Tuesday lived up to the hype and then some as Michigan State upset No. 4 Kentucky in a double-overtime thriller. The Spartans outlasted the Wildcats 86-77 despite trailing for more than 33 minutes of game action and twice needing game-saving buckets to force extra time.
Kentucky led early and looked to be in control to open the game, but in what was foreshadowing of things to come, Sparty scratched and clawed its way to the lead by halftime. The two teams traded blows in a see-sawing of momentum down the stretch before Michigan State — twice trailing late — twice came up clutch to force extra time. In both instances, it was Malik Hall, who finished with 20 points and five rebounds, who saved the day to force extra time needed to eventually escape.
Kentucky (2-1) got a team-high 22 points and 18 rebounds from Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year who came off the bench in his season debut after missing the team’s first two games with injury. But Tshiebwe was in foul trouble late and got his fifth foul in overtime. He was a team-high plus-10 when on the court for UK, but without him Michigan State smashed on the boards.
Michigan State (2-1) got balanced contributions from everyone on the night with four players reaching double figures led by Joey Hauser, who had 23 points, and Malik Hall, who finished with 20 points. Big man Mady Sissoko continued his strong start to the season with 18 points and eight boards, and Tyson Walker had 14 points, nine of which came in the extra periods.
Here are three takeaways from the action.
1. Michigan State looks like a top 10 team
Against a star-studded Kentucky roster that’s flush with talent both young and old, Michigan State cleaned up on the glass, shared the ball well, shot free throws at a great clip and methodically was able to wear down UK. The win moves Michigan State to 2-1 on the season, but of note, that could very easily be 3-0 with two wins over top five teams. Remember: it had a look at the buzzer on Friday to take down No. 2 Gonzaga that just didn’t quite go down. Tom Izzo has a veteran club that is disciplined, can shoot the leather off the ball and really grinds on teams defensively. That’s a winning formula that should qualify them as a top-10 team in college hoops right now.
2. Big O is back
Kentucky described Oscar Tshiebwe’s preseason knee procedure as minor, but after missing the team’s first two games, there was at least some level of concern that it may take some ramping up for him as he aimed to make a return.
Tshiebwe came off the bench and completely balled out in the loss, turning in 22 points and 18 boards in 34 minutes of action. He looked as good — and maybe better — as the old Tshiebwe we saw last season that took home Player of the Year honors. If he can stay healthy and continue playing like this, I think Big Blue Nation, despite the loss, has to feel really good about its prospects moving forward. This young team led by a couple key vets, Tshiebwe among them, is going to be a problem once it starts clicking.
3. Cason Wallace is going to be a monster
What’d Kentucky’s highest-rated signee from the 2022 class do in his first action against a power conference opponent? Hey dominated. The 14 points, five rebounds and five assists were all standard-fare five-star status, the type you expect from a recruit his caliber, but the big one was this: eight steals. eight That’s tied for the most by a Kentucky player in program history, joining Ashton Hagans, Rajon Rondo and Wayne Turner.