NEW YORK — Michigan State struggled to find and make open shots in its season-opener against Arizona, and the problems weren’t solved Tuesday night against Kentucky.
Facing the No. 2-ranked Wildcats at Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic, the No. 13 Spartans couldn’t keep pace with one of the most talented teams in the nation in a 69-48 loss.
The Spartans stayed close late in the first half, but Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox was also on the bench with two fouls. He helped key an early run in the second half to push the Wildcats’ lead to double digits.
Michigan State (0-2) had a rough 10-minute stretch in the first half. After a 3-pointer from Matt McQuaid with 14 minutes, 17 seconds left leveled the score at 12-12, the Spartans made one basket, a dunk, before Nick Ward connected with 4:49 left in the half. That ended a 14-2 run by Kentucky and left Michigan State chasing.
Compounding the shooting woes (20 of 61 from the field), Michigan State was not able to consistently get to the free-throw line. The Wildcats went 16 of 20 from the line while the Spartans were just 3 of 9.
WHY: The Spartans struggled to find openings against Kentucky’s stout half-court defense in the first half, and missed several open 3-pointers early in the second half. While it seemed like Michigan State might struggle to match Kentucky’s size, it was the Wildcats guards who went wild.
WHAT IT MEANS: Michigan State is still short a couple of key frontcourt players, and the offensive execution is a bit of a mess right now. Trying to figure that out against Sean Miller- and John Calipari-coached teams is pretty tough challenge, let alone with all of the travel mixed in, as well. Kentucky is as advertised. The Wildcats are super athletic, and Calipari has his freshmen playing hard on defense, which is going to mean long nights for a lot of teams this season.
WHO STARRED: Kenny Goins is Michigan State’s de facto center without Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter. Despite being matched up against multiple future NBA post players he held own, finishing with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Freshman Malik Monk came to Kentucky with a reputation as a streaky shooter. The streak was a hot one on Tuesday, as he hit seven 3-pointers in the game — 15 minutes into the game he had as many points as Michigan State (14). When it wasn’t Monk from the outside, sophomore G Isaiah Briscoe slashed his way to 21 points.
Fox, an incredibly quick point guard, filled the stat sheet with 12 points, five assists and four rebounds.
WHO STUMBLED: Miles Bridges was electric early in the first half with two incredible blocked shots and another play where he swatted an alley-oop attempt into the stands. He also rebounded well (12 total), but struggled mightily at the offensive end.
Bridges flashed another NBA-quality move, blowing by a defender for a two-handed dunk, but that was his only basket in the first 20 minutes to go with 5 turnovers. He made a 3-pointer to start the second half, but had little impact on the final 18 minutes or so.
Eron Harris was a non-factor in this game, with 2 points and a lot of time sitting near head coach Tom Izzo.
WHO WAS THERE: Besides the typical cast of ESPN characters for marquee events such as Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown was seated just behind the Kentucky bench. Brown coached Kansas to the 1988 national title and resigned this summer after a four-year stint at SMU. Williams Wesley, known to basketball fans as “World Wide Wes” and a friend of many hoops luminaries, including Calipari, was also behind the Wildcats bench.
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was seated courtside. Knicks team president Phil Jackson and former Kentucky star John Wall of the Washington Wizards were also in attendance.
WHO IS NEXT: Michigan State will play at home for the first time this season at 7 p.m. ET on Friday against Mississippi Valley State and will then face Florida Gulf Coast at the Breslin Center at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday before a trip to the Bahamas as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis event next week.