Playing at full strength for the first time this season, the No. 4-ranked Kentucky Wildcats failed its first big test with an 86-77 double-overtime loss to Michigan State on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going, but the return of Oscar Tshiebwe from preseason knee surgery, changed the flow of the game as the reigning National Player of the Year entered the game to a standing ovation at the first media time out and quickly scored on an offensive rebound to give Kentucky an early 8-4 lead.
Kentucky held on to a slight advantage throughout most of the first half, leading 20-13 after a Sahvir Wheeler layup at the 8:41 mark. However, Michigan State hit a three-pointer to end of the half to take a 36-34 advantage into the locker room.
The second half featured multiple lead changes but Michigan State scored an easy basket at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.
The Wildcats scored the first five points in overtime, two free throws from Jacob Toppin and a three-pointer from Sahvir Wheeler to give Kentucky a 67-62 lead. The Spartans fought back to tie the game at 67-all on a three-pointer with just over two minutes remaining.
Wheeler then hit 1-of-2 free throws to give the Cats a one-point lead and hit a driving layup to push to lead to 70-67. Michigan State scored to make it 70-69 Kentucky with 38.4 seconds left. Tshiebwe then got called for his fifth foul on an illegal screen and the Spartans failed to score on its next possession as Wallace was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws with 7.6 seconds for a 71-69 advantage. Michigan State then had an uncontested slam dunk to send the game into a second overtime.
In the second overtime, Michigan State broke a 76-76 tie on an alley-oop with 1:40 remaining to give the Spartans a 78-76 advantage and then pushed the lead to 80-76. The Spartans now improve to 2-1 and should jump into the Top 25 rankings next week.
Here are four things to know from a crushing defeat.
Oscar Tshiebwe makes season debut to standing ovation
The best player in college basketball made his season debut and had an immediate impact on both ends of the floor, scoring and getting key rebounds. He finished with another double-double, his 17th straight, and extended his range with a few jump shots to go with his offensive prowess in the low post. Simply put, Oscar is the heart and soul of this Kentucky team and needs more help on the boards when playing physical teams. He finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds and had four blocks.
Cason Wallace shines on the big stage
The freshman point guard was outstanding on Tuesday night, playing like a seasoned veteran as he proved to be a tenacious defender and had eight steals to set a new school record. Ashton Hagans, Rajon Rondo, and Wayne Turner previously shared the single-game record. The former Texas Player of the Year scored back-to-back baskets to break a 42-42 tie as the Wildcats moved ahead 46-42 early in the second half and his ability to distribute the ball and score when needed was a big boost for the offense. The bad news is that Wallace missed a couple of key free throws late that proved to be costly.
Sahvir Wheeler provides a spark for sluggish half-court offense
Like Wallace, Wheeler provided a much-needed spark as he used his speed and quickness to get to the basket and open up the offense. He also hit a big three pointer and was a relentless defender as the point guard combo of Wallace and Wheeler helped stabilize a cold shooting night from CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves, who both struggled. Wheeler, who had eight assists, seems to be back in form after missing time with a hip injury.
Cold shooting proves to be kiss of death in defeat
Kentucky Coach John Calipari would like to see his team score 80 points a game and has openly said that he would like to see the Wildcats attempt 25 threes per game. Neither goal was accomplished during regulation as Kentucky just couldn’t hit shots and had to depend on penetration from Wallace and Wheeler and a big night from Tshiebwe to generate points. In reality, the half-court offense was a mess and Fredrick and Reeves have to hit big shots if Kentucky hopes to be an elite team this season. The Wildcats were 5-for-20 from three point range during regulation play.
The No. 4-ranked Wildcats return to action on Thursday night at home against South Carolina State.