By Justin A. Byers | @Justin_A_Byers
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — In the highly-anticipated contest between No.1 Kansas and No. 10 Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic, the Jayhawks proved they are worthy of their top pre-season ranking with a 92-87 win over the Spartans.
Freshman guard Quentin Grimes scored 21 points, including 6-of-10 3-point shooting, with four assists. Junior forward Dedric Lawson, a transfer from the University of Memphis, had 20 points with 14 rebounds and six assists. Despite playing only 20 minutes due to foul trouble, 7-foot junior center Udoka Azubuike scored 17 points with four blocks.
Kansas showcased its young talent against a veteran Michigan State roster, starting two freshmen at guard. Grimes and Devon Dotson took the responsibility as game managers in their first regular-season games. Grimes said the freshman learned they would start two days before the game. Dotson finished with 16 points but had 4 turnovers, evidence of the guard’s youth.
The Jayhawks were without 6-foot, 9-inch sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa, who did not play as his eligibility is examined as a result of the FBI investigation into college basketball.
With Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. moving on to the NBA, the Spartans had a new look to start the season. Junior guard Joshua Langford led the Spartans with 18 points. Senior forward Kenny Goins had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Cassius Winston scored 13 points with 11 assists, but his 3-for-10 shooting and five turnovers contributed to Michigan State’s issues. Junior forward Nick Ward, who was limited to 25 minutes due to foul trouble, scored 9 points.
Kansas led by as many as 17 points in the first half through exceptional guard play. Freshmen Grimes and Dotson worked inside out, giving big man Azubuike plenty of opportunities in the paint. Azubuike, who averaged 13 points and seven rebounds last season, continued to establish a dominant presence in the paint. Kansas would finish the contest with 40 points in the paint compared to Michigan State’s 24, an advantage gained without the presence of De Sousa.
Like many of Izzo’s 23 previous Spartan teams, Michigan State pushed the tempo and attempted to get its interior players involved. This was evident in State’s ability to get to the free-throw line, where the Spartans were not able to capitalize on their opportunities. Michigan State converted just 14 of 25 free throws on the way to a 14-point halftime deficit. “The game was won or lost in the first ten minutes with turnovers for touchdowns and missed free throws,” Izzo said.
For the game, Kansas scored 20 points off turnovers while Michigan State had just 11.
“We just didn’t play good enough to beat a good team, and they’re a good team,” Izzo said.
In the first half, Kansas outrebounded Michigan State, 27-17. “Those loose rebounds they got, they got every loose rebound, that was the one thing we talked about,” Izzo said.
A 10-1 Michigan State run over a period of 3:18 brought the Spartans within three points, 90-87, on a 3-point shot by junior Kyle Ahrens with 34 seconds to play. “We’ve got to learn how to close the game,” Self said.
But that was as close as Michigan State would get. Kansas survived with fewer imperfections in a meeting of talented teams that will use the event as a learning experience as they each work toward the expectation of a deep run in March.