One of these years, Oakland is finally going to finish off the upset of Michigan State.
Saturday afternoon, they came agonizingly close for the second time in a row. Three years after losing to the Spartans by a single point, the Golden Grizzlies led by eight points early and had the advantage several times in the second half before falling 67-63.
“I’m disappointed, because I wanted to win, but I’m still pleased with what we did,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “They are the No. 5 team in the country, and we’re not.”
The Spartans had plenty of reasons to struggle on a snowy Saturday. They hadn’t played in ten days since losing their No. 1 ranking to North Carolina, they were missing Gary Harris (ankle), Matt Costello (mono) and Kenny Kaminski (academic suspension), and Keith Appling and Adreian Payne were still banged up from the loss against the Tar Heels.
On top of that, they were playing against a 2-8 Oakland team that has never beaten Michigan State in 11 tries and has rarely come close.
“It has been a miserable 10 days,” Izzo said. “You lose and you want to go to war, but you can’t go to war without bodies. We hope to get Gary back this week. Costello, I have no idea about that. But we’re missing Gary. He’s the best two-way player we’ve got.”
It is hard to imagine all that wasn’t a big part of the reason Oakland jumped out to a 15-7 lead in the first seven minutes. Every time Michigan State would cut into the deficit, Travis Bader or Duke Mondy would hit another shot.
“We have to play like we’re playing Michigan State every night,” said Bader of Oakland’s slow start that has, understandably, also included losses to Indiana, North Carolina, UCLA and Gonzaga. “As a leader, I expect that every game.”
Oakland led 32-31 at the half, and even though the Spartans went ahead early in the second period, Greg Kampe’s team wouldn’t go away. Mondy’s 3-pointer made it 50-50 with 7:48 to play, and a surpisingly large crowd at the Palace sensed a chance to see an upset. After all, Oakland’s near-miss against Michigan State happened at the home of the Pistons, as did its first win over a top-25 opponent.
Even though the game was technically a home game for Oakland, the crowd was dominated by Michigan State fans. Izzo went to the O’Rena to open the building, saw his team struggle against a barrage of 3-pointers, and has never been back. Given the tough games he’s getting from the Grizzlies at the Palace, he might want to follow John Beilein’s lead and stop scheduling Oakland all together.
Finally, though, Keith Appling took over the game. On the next three possessions, he scored six points, set up a Branden Dawson layup and had a key steal as Michigan State went on an 8-0 run. Mondy ended it with a 3-pointer, but those were Oakland’s only points in a stretch of just over five minutes.
“We just have to come out more ready to play,” Appling said. “It’s as simple as that. I knew in the second half I had to be more aggressive, not only looking for my shot but getting to the paint, making the defense collapse and finding my teammates on kickouts.”
For Appling and Oakland, it was a case of deja vu. In Michigan State’s one-point win in 2010, it was Appling who had five points in a 10-0 run that broke a second-half tie and gave the Spartans the lead for good. That was his first college start after a spectacular high-school career that included the Mr. Basketball award and 49-point game for Detroit Pershing in the state championship game.
Equally important for Michigan State was Branden Dawson, who bounced back from a poor game against North Carolina with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
“They were just so physical,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “A couple of our bigger backups are out for the season, and we just don’t have the size to match them. We weren’t physical enough, and Dawson had his way down in there.”