Michigan State vs.  Gonzaga score, takeaways: No. 2 Bulldogs, Drew Timme overcome slow start to beat Spartans

Michigan State vs. Gonzaga score, takeaways: No. 2 Bulldogs, Drew Timme overcome slow start to beat Spartans

No. 2 Gonzaga roared back from a 12-point deficit in the second half Friday night for a thrilling 64-63 win over Michigan State in the first college basketball game played on an aircraft carrier in a decade. The USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego hosted the matchup to highlight the opening week of the season in the Armed Forces Classic Carrier Edition, and the unique setting delivered in a big way.

While the spectacle of a game played aboard a gargantuan Navy vessel provided entertainment value in its own right, the game itself stole the show. The Spartans commanded the action early and led 45-33 early in the second half, but then Drew Timme took over. Gonzaga’s senior forward led all scorers with 22 points and 13 rebounds as he put the Bulldogs on his back down the stretch. The CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year went to work against everyone Michigan State threw at him, helping to draw five fouls from both of the Spartans’ frontcourt starters, including Michigan State center Mady Sissoko. The junior scored a career-high 14 points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds but was limited to just 11 minutes in the second half and crowded out with 1:51 remaining. Without him on the floor, the Spartans failed to score in the game’s final few possessions.

A last-second shot from Jaden Akins from the top of the key bounced off the mark, allowing the Bulldogs to escape with a victory from the memorable Veterans Day showdown.

It took time, but Timme shines late

For casual college basketball fans tuning in to the sport for the first time this season, the reaction to seeing Timme on the floor may have been, “wow, that guy is still playing?” The answer is yes, and if his performance was any indication, Timme may take his game to even higher heights this season. When the Zags desperately needed a spark, he provided one both in terms of his emotional on-court displays and tangible production. Timme scored 11 points in the final 7:02 and never left the floor in the second half while earning the game’s MVP honor.

It was only when fellow Gonzaga bigs Anton Watson and Efton Reid were each on the bench with four fouls that Timme truly found his rhythm. Once he had space to operate, he was essentially impossible for Michigan State to defend.

Spartans need a star

Michigan State returns no double figure scorers from last season’s team, and it’s unclear if there will be a go-to guy who emerges for this version of the Spartans. While Sissoko’s career-high offensive performance was an unexpected help, it proved to be an unsustainable source of production for Michigan State. Junior guard AJ Hoggard attacked the paint relentlessly and scored seven points at the free-throw line in the second half for the Spartans, but he was 0 for 5 from the field in the half.

Michigan State finished without a point in the game’s final 2:07, and the lack of an offensive alpha was obviously part of the problem. Senior forward Joey Hauser, who scored a team-high 18 points in a season-opening win on Monday, crowded out with 4:46 remaining without having scored a point. There was plenty to like about how the Spartans began the game with interior toughness and defensive tenacity. Those features led to some transition sneakers. But the team’s offensive questions were on display down the stretch.

Pay tribute

In postgame interviews with ESPN, Timme and Gonzaga coach Mark Few spoke glowingly of the experience of playing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. While the “Carrier Classic” series played back in 2011 and 2012 drew mixed reviews, partially because weather issues interfered in a couple of contests, this one went off without a hitch. Temperatures were in the low-to-mid 60s for the game, skies were clear and the wind was calm. The unusual setting had a clear impact on the game’s outside shooting as Michigan State and Gonzaga combined to make just 7 of 34 attempts from 3-point range. But all in all, the return to playing aboard an aircraft carrier seemed to be a smashing hit.

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