HOUSTON -- It was the definition of a back-and-forth, physical basketball game, but in the end Michigan State's final three-pointer fell while the Horns' did not. No. 5 Texas lost to the No. 22 Spartans 67-63 at Toyota Center in Houston Saturday in a game where neither team established an advantage until the final seconds.
For every score, for every push one team made, the other had an answer...until the end, that is.
Michigan State (8-2) took a 67-63 win over Texas (9-2) on a big shot to close out the game, while Texas misfired on its final two attempts to respond.
With 25.2 seconds to go, Texas led 63-62, but Michigan State's Raymar Morgan found guard Durrell Summers wide open in the corner. Summers pulled up and hit a three with 18 seconds to go to take the lead.
Texas G/F Damion James was assigned to Summers, but left his man when he moved over to help with Morgan.
“I was going to help Gary (Johnson) and I lost track of my man,” said James. “(The shot) was uncontested and he knocked it down. It was a big play for them. I've got to learn from that. I promise it won't happen again.”
When Texas had its chance to respond, unlike during the rest of the game the Horns came up short. A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason fumbled a hand-off attempt that fell out of bounds, giving the ball back to Michigan State.
“Coach (Rick Barnes) told us to go to a dribble hand-off and we just mishandled the ball,” explained Abrams, shaking his head.
But it would not be Texas' last chance. The Horns intentionally fouled and Michigan State's Kalin Lucas missed the front end of his one-and-one attempt, meaning Texas still had one shot left.
Mason's shot from the corner found iron and nothing else, though, and Michigan State made its final two free throws to secure the 67-63 win. Mason took the last shot because the Spartans locked down on Abrams when the senior guard brought the ball up the floor. Abrams was held to just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. He went 0-for-4 from three-point range and also had three turnovers compared to three assists.
“You got to hand it to (the Spartans),” said Abrams. “They did a good job of not letting me catch the ball, and when I did catch the ball it was out of position.”
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was pleased with his team's ability to stop Abrams, who's averaging 19.7 points per game this season. Izzo said limiting Abrams' looks was a big part of the game plan and he was particularly happy with one of his players' ability to stay on the Texas senior.
“Travis Walton, what can I say? I think he's the best defensive player in our league...Today he did a heck of a job. I think A.J. Abrams is one of the best players that I've seen in film or in person.”
Izzo did note, however, that there were still some holes in that strong defense.
“We couldn't guard a couple of their guys, Johnson and James, with a fish net, but we found a way to execute down the stretch,” said Izzo.
Johnson and James were two bright spots for Texas on the offensive end. After a few inconsistent outings, James got back on track with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance against Michigan State.
But no Texas player could match Saturday's break out performance from Johnson. The sophomore forward finished with a career-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and hit all four of his shots from the foul line. While he was happy to have such a big game back in his home town, Johnson said that his stepping up on the offensive end is more about opening up his teammates than him.
“It'll open up things for guys like A.J., Damion and Connor (Atchley),” said Johnson. “The ultimate goal is to get those guys shots, try to take some pressure off of those guys.”
For his part, Atchley kicked in eight points and five rebounds. The senior forward has been inconsistent this season and started out the game much the same way, but contributed some big shots and boards down the stretch and had a key steal that kept Texas' hopes alive.
Dexter Pittman also pulled down eight rebounds for Texas, which played strong underneath for much of a game that was as physical of contest as either team has been in.
“If you didn't bring your hard hat and your lunch pail today, you were getting knocked out,” said Izzo.
James even had his lip busted open on the first play off the game, but said he didn't mind because that kind of physical play creates an environment he loves to play in.
“We were just down there battling. Some dude grabbed me and I got him off of me and another dude hit me in my lip,” said James. “It happens, you know? But I love it. It's basketball,” said James.
Though Texas played well on defense for most of the game, there we several moments, such as on the final Michigan State shot, where there was some confusion on defense, which allowed for some easy buckets and accounted for the unusually high shooting percentage Texas has given up to each of its last two opponents (57.7 percent for Texas Southern, 50.9 percent to Michigan State Saturday).
“They didn't need any help and we helped 'em,” said Barnes.
Even with the loss, Barnes he expects his team to learn from the experience after dropping a tough game in the waning seconds.
“This game's going to help us. I felt it did a year ago up there,” said Barnes. “This game is a tough one to lose because when we needed to get some things done offensively at the end of the game. We didn't and they did.”
Texas next goes on the road to play Wisconsin. Tip-off for Tuesday's game is set for 8:30 p.m. CST. The game broadcast will be on ESPN2.