CHICAGO – As the buzzer sounded and Michigan State teammates raced onto the court to celebrate, Gary Harris held his index finger aloft.
No doubt about who is No. 1.
For the moment, at least.
Branden Dawson tipped in a miss with less than six seconds left, and the No. 2 Spartans held on for a 78-74 victory over top-ranked Kentucky and its latest cast of phenoms in the first game of the Champions Classic doubleheader Tuesday night.
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In the second game, fifth-ranked Kansas beat No. 4 Duke 94-83.
“We want to be number-one at the end of the season,” Michigan State’s Keith Appling said. “Not the beginning.”
Keep playing like this and the Spartans (2-0) are sure to be in the conversation at the end of March.
Kentucky, too. After trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half, looking like the freshmen most of them are, the Wildcats (2-1) showed why there is so much hype surrounding them. Julius Randle almost beat the Spartans single-handedly, scoring 23 of his 27 points in the second half and making a jumper with 42 seconds left that cut Michigan State’s lead to 76-74.
But Dawson tipped in a miss by Denzel Valentine to close out scoring.
“You got guys crying in there, which is a good thing,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I want it to hurt like that. I knew this would get their attention. The biggest thing is if you don’t do this together, you won’t win. You’ll never be a special team.”
The last time Calipari had a roster this star-studded, the Wildcats won a national title.
Some observers think this group has superior ability; six of the players were McDonald’s All-Americans in high school.
But the Spartans aren’t exactly slouches, returning six of their top seven scorers. Just as important, big-time games like this are nothing new to them, with coach Tom Izzo routinely scheduling the likes of Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas before Jan. 1.
“They’re really good,” Calipari said. “This is the second game out and they go 17 assists to seven turnovers? That’s unbelievable.”
Appling collected 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Harris had 20 points.
CHICAGO – Andrew Wiggins scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, outplaying Jabari Parker down the stretch and helping Kansas knock off Duke.
Parker, a former star at nearby Simeon High School, had 27 points, nine rebounds and three steals in a spectacular homecoming. But it was his fellow freshman star, Wiggins, who made the most significant plays.
“Big players make big plays,” Wiggins said. “I think our whole team, whoever was on the court, every possession we made a big play.”
Wiggins made a step-back jumper to give the Jayhawks an 85-81 lead with 1:33 to go, and then had a fast-break dunk after a steal by Perry Ellis. Ellis had 24 points.
Kansas (2-0) went 27 for 35 from the free-throw line, compared with 16 of 28 for the Blue Devils (1-1).
Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon made a jumper to tie the score at 77 with 3:50 left.
Of the Jayhawks, Parker said, “They just wanted it more.”
• Russ Smith scored a game-high 30 points as third-ranked Louisville, the defending NCAA champion, beat visiting Hofstra 97-69 to improve to 2-0.
• In other games involving Top 10 teams, No. 7 Michigan beat South Carolina State 93-59; No. 8 Oklahoma State routed Utah Valley 93-40; No. 9 Syracuse downed Fordham 89-74; and 10th-ranked Ohio State defeated Ohio 79-69.