Arizona stays unbeaten, edges Michigan State in Thanksgiving thriller

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By Samantha Rose

With less than four minutes on the clock at Acrisure Arena, Michigan State led Arizona 66-63. Just when it looked as though Thanksgiving Day could be the turning point for Tom Izzo’s team, Tommy Lloyd’s Wildcats reminded everybody why there’s a No. 3 next to their name. 

The same crunch-time execution that Arizona used to win at Duke — a victory that is as strong as any for a team that you will find in college hoops thus far — was on display in Palm Springs. The Wildcats closed the game on an 11-2 run to come away with a 74-68 win to improve to 6-0 on the season. On the other side, it’s another case of heartbreak for Tom Izzo and company. The Spartans’ second-half effort was as good as they’ve looked all season, but it wasn’t enough. They are 3-3 and have only one more marquee nonconference résumé opportunity left on Dec. 16 against Baylor (8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). 

No. 21 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 3 Arizona Wildcats Highlights | CBB on FOX

No. 21 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 3 Arizona Wildcats Highlights | CBB on FOX

Here are three takeaways from a thriller in the inaugural Acrisure Invitational: 

Arizona’s fast start proved to be critical in the win 


A hook shot by Oumar Ballo, a dunk by Keshad Johnson and a layup by Kylan Boswell gave Arizona six unanswered points early on to make it 10-4 Wildcats. Notice a trend with those buckets? They all came in the paint, an early theme to the matchup. Twelve minutes into the game, Arizona led 24-10 behind a 14-4 advantage on the interior while holding the Spartans to 4-for-14 from the floor. 

That’s a bigger item for Michigan State: The Spartans continue to go through scoring lulls within these important games. Now, they were able to come back and take a late lead, but the Wildcats led for over 36 minutes in the contest. It took so much for Michigan State to dig out of a 15-point hole that when we got into the final stretch, Arizona had the legs to finish the game. 

How did the Wildcats get off to such a strong start? By shooting 52%, a product of so many quality looks on the interior, and Kylan Boswell leading the way with 12 points in the opening 20 minutes. 

Will Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard both get into a rhythm simultaneously? 

This was supposed to be one of the best backcourts in college basketball. And look, Walker’s had a sensational year averaging 23 points per game. But he needs help from Hoggard, who did get into a groove in the second half with 15 points. The problem? Walker only shot 2-for-8 in the final 20 minutes of the game. 

A.J. Hoggard sinks the layup to give Michigan State the lead against Arizona

A.J. Hoggard sinks the layup to give Michigan State the lead against Arizona

It just hasn’t felt like everything’s clicked yet for Michigan State. Is there time for that to happen? Sure, but this was supposed to be a Final Four-caliber team for Izzo. The Spartans will likely be out of the Top 25 on Monday and are going to have to put up a strong Big Ten season, because the nonconference portion of the campaign has been a disappointment. 

Tommy Lloyd was a transfer-portal winner, and Arizona’s balance has powered it to a perfect start

Caleb Love (North Carolina) led the way for the Wildcats with 17 points. Keshad Johnson (San Diego State) continues to show the benefits of having been to the national championship game, posting 13 points and 10 rebounds. Oumar Ballo, Pelle Larsson and Boswell were all in double-figures as well. Just like the Wildcats had in the road win over Duke, five scored in double-figures. 

KJ Lewis makes an acrobatic finish at the rim to extend Arizona’s lead over Michigan State

KJ Lewis makes an acrobatic finish at the rim to extend Arizona's lead over Michigan State

And in the midst of all of this, Lloyd is now 67-11 in two seasons and six games as Arizona’s head coach. That’s an .859 winning percentage. 

We talk about Purdue seeking redemption as a program this season after losing to FDU in the first round last year. But it was Arizona who fell to 15-seed Princeton in disappointing fashion. Lloyd is out for that revenge this year, and the amount of winning he has done is really impressive at a place with major expectations. This program is a legit Tier A national contender this season. 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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