West Lafayette, Ind. — There were moments on Thursday night when Michigan State was in complete control.
The ball was moving, the shots were falling, the lead was growing.
It seemed like the Spartans were destined to move on in the NCAA Tournament, ready to dispatch UCLA in the First Four, Michigan State’s first appearance in the opening portion of the tournament.
Of course, nothing has come easy for Michigan State this season. A lead that had grown to 14 points late in the first half quickly fizzled early in the second, and even as the Spartans led by five with 1:29 to play, they couldn’t deliver the knockout punch.
It was UCLA, instead, that made the big plays down the stretch, scoring the final five points of regulation then dominating the overtime, knocking off Michigan State, 86-80, and advancing to take on BYU on Saturday in Indianapolis.
“It’s just disappointing because we had the game won,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We just made some of the same mistakes we made two or three times this year in critical situations.
“We played incredibly well offensively and incredibly poor defensively. Give them a lot of credit, but it seemed like we were in control and didn’t rebound the ball like we could have or should have. It’s a shame because I thought we played some of our best basketball of the year.”
There was a missed rebound late in overtime when it was a one-possession game, but the big miss was at the end of regulation when UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez missed the front end of a one-and-one with Michigan State leading by three and 37 seconds left in the game. The Spartans couldn’t corral the rebound and Tyger Campbell found Jaquez for a layup and he was fouled. He hit the free throw to tie the game.
Aaron Henry’s shot on the next possession missed the iron and the game went to overtime, where UCLA took over.
“We just didn’t make plays down the stretch,” Michigan State senior Joshua Langford said. “Missing free throws, missed free-throw cut-outs. That’s kind of been the story for us in a few losses. We knew the margin for error for us is very slim. So, those small mistakes, we couldn’t have those and we still had them.”
Not only did the loss knock Michigan State (15-13) out of the tournament before it really got rolling, it extended its losing streak at Purdue’s Mackey Arena to five games with its last victory coming in 2014.
Henry led the way offensively for Michigan State, scoring 16 to go along with seven assists and five rebounds. Langford scored 12 and Malik Hall added 10, but the early ball offensive flow disappeared in the final minutes and overtime.
Meanwhile, the Spartans had few answers for UCLA’s duo of Jaquez and Johnny Juzang. Jaquez scored 27 and Juzang added 23 for the Bruins (18-9). Cody Riley and Jules Bernard added 11 points each for UCLA.
“We huddled up at halftime as a coaching staff and tried to turn up the heat defensively in the second half and tried to make them uncomfortable as much as we could,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “The kids responded and I thought our intensity level obviously went way up in the second half defensively.
“Got a lot of contributions. Obviously Jaime and Johnny put the ball in the basket for us. … But obviously a great win and a great game, two storied programs. I’ve got as much respect for Tom Izzo as anybody in the business. So big win for us.”
Michigan State had one of its best offensive halves of the season, jumping out to a 9-2 lead, sustaining an 8-0 response from UCLA and eventually building a double-digit lead in the final five minutes of the half. Eight different players scored as the Spartans were 17-for-30, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range as Henry and Julius Marble had eight points. Michigan State took its biggest lead of the half at 40-26 when Joey Hauser hit a triple from corner, just two minutes after Henry and Gabe Brown hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
UCLA was almost as good, hitting 50% of its shots (14-for-28) as Jaquez was 6-for-10 and scored 14, including a deep jumper at the buzzer to pull the Bruins within 44-33 headed into halftime.
“We said all along our margin for error is very slim,” Izzo said, “and yet, I say that when the first half and part of the second we moved the ball so well and really played really good basketball. Made a couple of mistakes right before the half. We were supposed to switch. We didn’t switch. They hit a shot. Those things — you don’t have many margins for error.”
The Bruins came out firing in the second half, reeling off a 12-4 run to pull within three of the Spartans just three minutes into the half. Michigan State responded and got the lead back to eight at 53-45 after a Brown layup in transition.
But UCLA hit two more 3-pointers to pull within 58-55 before back-to-back jumpers from Langford and Henry gave Michigan State a 62-55 lead with 9:28 to play. The Bruins wouldn’t go away, however, and used a 7-2 run to get within 64-62 with 7:18 to play after another Jaquez jumper. UCLA kept coming, and when Bernard scored on a drive with 5:47 to play, the Bruins were in front, 67-66.
Michigan State responded, scoring the next seven points with five coming from Hall to take a 73-67 lead with four minutes left in the game. The lead was 77-72 when UCLA scored five in a row, tying the game with 28 seconds to play on a three-point play from Jaquez. Henry turned the ball over on Michigan State’s possession and Juzang’s half-court shot was off the mark, sending the game to overtime, where UCLA pulled away.
“It’s tough to lose a game the way we lost it,” Izzo said. “I really mean that. I had some guys that played their tails off. Gabe Brown was one of them. Marcus Bingham was one of them. We really played extremely, extremely hard, but we just didn’t make the plays that mattered.”
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