No. 2 Michigan State pulls away late against Oakland
DETROIT — If there ever was a deceiving final score, it was Saturday’s tilt between No. 2 Michigan State and Oakland University.
The final books will forever say it was a double-digit victory for the Spartans, who won their ninth straight game with an 86-73 win over Oakland in front of a capacity crowd at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
But digging deeper into what happened in front of what turned into an electric atmosphere as the game went on, Michigan State (10-1) needed a late surge to stave off an upset.
“We found a way to win,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s all that matters.”
Behind torrid shooting from guard Kendrick Nunn, a transfer from Illinois, Oakland held a 55-52 lead with 14:25 remaining.
Michigan State only led 69-68 with 4:55 remaining but took control from there.
Sophomore Miles Bridges hit one 3-pointer, and then sophomore Cassius Winston hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Spartans a 78-68 lead with 3:05 remaining.
Winston is a native of Detroit and played his high school basketball at nearby U-D Jesuit, and Izzo said he was “jacked this morning.”
Winston scored 14 points in the final 3:46 of the game.
“He went in with a vengeance in that last 10 minutes,” Izzo said. “He told me what he was going to do on the bench and he went out and did it.”
On the other side, it was another heartbreaking defeat to Michigan State for Oakland (6-5), which is still searching for its first ever win over what is annually its in-state measuring stick.
“I’m not happy,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “We should have won this game. We just couldn’t make the plays down the stretch. We lost because we couldn’t make the plays down the stretch.”
Nunn was the big reason why Oakland was so close late in the game, scoring a game-high 32 points on the strength of 5-of-12 shooting from 3-point range.
Nunn, who has become familiar with Michigan State’s program over the years from his time with Illinois, didn’t leave the arena impressed with this year’s version of the Spartans.
“They have had better teams to be honest,” Nunn said. “I don’t think it was a tough task for us. I thought we could’ve gotten the job done.”
For the record, Kampe doesn’t share Nunn’s sentiments about Michigan State.
“I disagree with Kendrick, but it’s not the first time we have disagreed about something,” Kampe said.
Nunn didn’t know he would even play until Saturday morning, when the team got a second opinion on a sprained ankle that forced him to rest for almost two weeks.
After a specialist diagnosed Nunn with tendinitis and that he couldn’t do any more damage to the ankle, Nunn played through the pain and put on a show while playing 38 minutes.
“This young man did that without touching a basketball since a week ago this past Wednesday,” Kampe said.
Senior Jalen Hayes scored 14 points and senior Martez Walker added 13 points in defeat for Oakland.
Winston led five players in double-figures with 19 points and sophomore center Nick Ward had 15 points and 15 rebounds for Michigan State.
Sophomore guard Josh Langford scored 17 points, Bridges had 11 points and freshmen Jaren Jackson added 10 points for the Spartans.
Michigan State held a 31-19 lead with over six minutes left in the first half, but Oakland closed the half with a 14-7 run to close its deficit to just five at 38-33.
Oakland then got hot from the perimeter in the second half and took a 55-52 lead with 14:25 remaining in the game on a 3-pointer by Nunn.
Michigan State answered with a 9-3 run to take a 63-58 lead with 10:12 left, but Oakland countered with five straight points to tie the game at 63-63 with 8:53 remaining.
Izzo insisted after the game that his team hasn’t come close to hitting its peak, and he hopes some time over the Christmas break to practice will be a benefit.
“I don’t know if that is good news or bad news,” Izzo said. “We just need some time to get better, and yet statistically it doesn’t say that. We just weren’t as smooth as we needed to be.”
NOTES: Michigan State improved to 16-0 all-time against Oakland. ... The contest was the second half of a doubleheader, the first day of college basketball games ever played at the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Michigan and Detroit Mercy played in the first game. ... In his 34th season as coach at Oakland, Greg Kampe is 13 victories shy of collecting his 600th career win. Kampe ranks third in the country for most seasons with one school behind Jim Boeheim of Syracuse (42 years) and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (38 years). ... Michigan State will play its next five games at home. The next time the Spartans play a game away from Breslin Center is Jan. 7 at Ohio State. ... Oakland has two more nonconference home games against Towson on Wednesday and Eastern Michigan on Friday before opening up conference play on Dec. 28 at Milwaukee. ... Michigan State entered the game No. 1 nationally in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 33.1 percent from the field. ... In October, Oakland was picked as the favorite to win the Horizon League in the conference’s preseason poll.