Oregon, Michigan State aim for better defense in consolation game

No. 12 Michigan State’s emphatic start to the season slowed somewhat in Thursday night’s opening round of the Phil Knight Invitational.

The Spartans’ loss to No. 18 Alabama sent them into the consolation round of the tournament, where they will face Oregon on Friday in Portland, Ore.

Michigan State (3-2) jumped into the AP poll this week after earning a hard-fought double overtime victory over then-No. 4 Kentucky on November 15 and followed that up three days later by defeating Villanova.

On Thursday, the Spartans led by as many as seven points in the first half, but the Crimson Tide cemented control with a 17-4 run early in the second half to extend their lead to 18 en route to an 81-70 win .

You could say Michigan State coach Tom Izzo saw the possibility of a loss or two coming up.

“When I watched some games yesterday, you just realize that there are a lot of good teams – maybe not a lot of elite teams, elite teams, but a lot of very good teams,” Izzo said on the Monday before the tournament. “And if you’re Baylor, you’re UCLA and you go into a tournament and all of a sudden one of them walks out with two losses in a row, so that tournament is going to be for us.”

Tyson Walker led the Spartans with 21 points on 9-of-22 shooting. But undefeated Alabama made 44.4 percent of its shots compared to Michigan State’s 38.7 percent and had 19 assists on 28 field goals scored, leaving some things for the Spartans to clean up defensively.

They will refocus against the Ducks (2-3), who, despite playing in their home state, were beaten 83-59 by No. 20 UConn earlier in the day.

Oregon played the opening round game with only seven healthy contenders, three of whom filled similar roles as centers who were 6ft 11 or taller. The remaining players were helpless to stop UConn on the edge as the Huskies lost 17 of 37 3-point attempts.

Newcomer 7-footer Kel’el Ware delivered 18 points and nine rebounds off the bench to carry Oregon offensively, but coach Dana Altman wanted more down the court.

“I loved his performance on the offensive end. I needed that same kind of bounce on the defensive end,” Altman said. “He gave up some really easy shots in our zone and just his defensive awareness wasn’t as good as it should have been because he had a really good offensive game, the best offensive game he had.”

Ware was joined by 6-foot-11 N’Faly Dante, who scored 15 points against UConn and leads the Ducks this season with 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Add in 7-footer Nate Bittle (7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) and you have what Izzo described as “the greatest team I’ve ever seen.”

Oregon’s Bigs will face off against Michigan State forward Joey Hauser and center Mady Sissoko, who are playing deep down. Before Thursday, Hauser led Michigan State with 14.0 ppg while Sissoko averaged 8.8 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds. Alabama held Hauser and Sissoko to a combined 2 for 9 from the floor for 13 points.

– Field level media

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