No. 12 Michigan State's emphatic start to the season was slowed a bit Thursday night in the opening round of the Phil Knight Invitational.
The Spartans' loss to No. 18 Alabama sent them into the consolation bracket of the tournament, where they'll have a quick turnaround to face Oregon on Friday in Portland, Ore.
Michigan State (3-2) leapt into the AP poll this week after it earned a hard-fought, double-overtime victory over then-No. 4 Kentucky on Nov. 15 and followed it 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 in the early part of the second half to grow their advantage to 18 en route to an 81-70 victory.
You could say Michigan State coach Tom Izzo saw the possibility of a loss or two coming.
"As I watched some games yesterday, you just realize there's a lot of good teams -- maybe not a lot of elite, elite teams but a lot of very good teams," Izzo said Monday before the tournament. "And when you're Baylor, you're UCLA and you go into a tournament and all of a sudden one of them's leaving there with two straight losses, that's the way this tournament will 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 made field goals, leaving the Spartans some things to clean up defensively.
They'll refocus against the Ducks (2-3), who despite playing in their home state were stomped by No. 20 UConn earlier in the day, 83-59.
Oregon played the opening-round game with only seven healthy scholarship players, three of whom filled similar roles as centers standing 6-foot-11 or taller. The remaining players were helpless to stop UConn around the perimeter, as the Huskies drained 17 of 37 3-point attempts.
Freshman 7-footer Kel'el Ware provided 18 points and nine rebounds off the bench to carry Oregon offensively, but coach Dana Altman wanted more at the other end of the court.
"I loved his production on the offensive end. I needed that same type of bounce on the defensive end," Altman said. "He gave up some really easy shots in our zone and just his awareness defensively wasn't as good as it should have been, because he had a really good offensive game, the best offensive game he's had."
Ware was joined by 6-foot-11 N'Faly Dante, who scored 15 against UConn and who leads the Ducks this season at 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Add 7-footer Nate Bittle (7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds per game), and you have what Izzo said was "the biggest team I've seen."
Oregon's bigs will go up against Michigan State forward Joey Hauser and center Mady Sissoko down low. Before Thursday, Hauser led Michigan State with 14.0 ppg while Sissoko was averaging 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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