Michigan State and the rowdy Breslin Center crowd proved to be a bit too much for the short-handed Villanova Wildcats, who made the most out of who they had, despite missing Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore.
After a shaky start, the ‘Cats dug deep in the final minutes, giving the Spartans a scare and nearly stealing the game, but their comeback attempt fell short, as Michigan State hung on for a 73-71 win after a last-second heave by Eric Dixon was off the mark.
“We ran a play to score,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said about the final possession. “... We had a lot of different options and had to take what the defense gave us. We ended up getting a three, but we would have taken a really easy two as well, they just played really good defense.”
Villanova, who trailed by double digits with 4:52 to go, went on a run that capitalized on a couple of injuries to A.J. Hoggard — who later returned and Jaden Akins, but also included five consecutive made shots, topped off by a Jordan Longino three after a steal by Caleb Daniels to make it a one point game with 49 seconds left. A few ticky-tacky fouls eventually resulted in Tyson Walker on the free throw line with 17 seconds left to make it a 73-71 lead, and the Spartans held on from there.
They say you live by the three and die by the three… well Michigan State lived by the three and Villanova, once again, died by the three tonight. Villanova shot 8-of-29 (27.6%) from three and Michigan State shot 13-of-25 (52.0%) from three.
“The speed that they play with, it’s really hard to take away threes,” Neptune said.
After a strong start defensively, Villanova’s three-point defense was non-existent towards the end of the first half. Hoggard was left unguarded from the three-point line and punished the ‘Cats, while Joey Hauser also shot well to start. The lead shortly ballooned to as much as 11, and Michigan State entered the break with a 34-24 lead.
“Their speed took a toll on us the last 10 minutes of the (first) half,” Neptune said. “Obviously, an extremely well-coached team and they made some timely shots.”
Michigan State’s lead grew to as much as 16 with nine minutes remaining in the second half.
“We told our guys to keep grinding,” Neptune said. “We’ve been down a good amount this year, and we’ve never stopped coming. We told the guys in the locker room after the game that mentality is going to be really good for us this year.”
Eric Dixon was the lone bright spot for the Wildcats finishing with 24 points and nine rebounds. Dixon also held Mady Sissoko to only one point in 26 minutes. Dixon’s efforts were not enough to carry the shorthanded Wildcats to victory.
“[Eric Dixon] is a warrior,” Neptune said. “We always said it. We knew when we recruited him way back in high school he was one of the best scorers we saw for a while. He just had a knack for scoring and we knew one day — we didn’t know when it was going to be — but he was going to be a load, a go-to guy for us, and today was his day.”
Brandon Slater finished with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Caleb Daniels, who struggled for most of the game, turned it on in crunch time and helped spark the ‘Cats late, finishing with 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting, with two boards and three steals.
Tyson Walker led the way for Michigan State with 22 points, while A.J. Hoggard added 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Hauser chipped in 13 points, and Malik Hall had 12 points. Michigan State’s team defense and transition offense countered every jab the Wildcats threw.
The final score is not a good representation of how the game felt. The Wildcats’ offense improved from the Temple and Delaware State games but Michigan State controlled the game from start to finish. Next up for the 2-2 Wildcats is Iowa State on Thanksgiving as part of the loaded PK85.