Spartans survive nightmare ending, squeak past Maryland 76-72 in Big Ten Tournament


MSU forward Max Christie drives in the lane during the Spartans’ 77-67 win over Maryland on March 6, 2022/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Trent Balley, Sports Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – In the fifth game of the Big Ten Tournament, the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans and No. 10 Maryland Terrapins clashed for the second time in five days, and the third time this season on Thursday. With the Spartans winning the first two matchups, the Terrapins looked to make the third time their charm at the neutral Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

The Spartans had other plans, however, and despite a wild, turnover-riddled final three minutes, they managed to say “Three strikes, you’re out!” and hold on for the 76-72 victory.

In the last matchup, on MSU’s Senior Day, Eric Ayala went off for 17 points in the second half to pull his Terrapins back into the game after being down by 20 at halftime. In the opening sets of Thursday’s game, it was evident that interim coach Danny Manning was trying to get Ayala as many 3-point looks as possible, along with his running mate in the backcourt, Fatts Russell. The pair managed to go a solid 4-for-9 from deep in the first half.

The highlight of the first half belonged to Spartan senior captain Gabe Brown, who crossed up Hakim Hart and made him hit the floor before splashing home a baseline jumper. On the Spartans’ next possession, Max Christie connected on a right-corner three to give the Spartans a 33-23 lead with 6:32 to play in the half.

In the final minute of the half, MSU freshman swingman Jaden Akins swished a fadeaway 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to give the Spartans a 43-34 advantage, and Izzo and the Spartans hit the locker room up by nine.

MSU guard Jaden Akins attempts a contested 3-pointer during the Spartans’ 77-67 win over Maryland on March 7, 2022/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Maryland’s first-half offense was fairly reliant on Ayala and Russell, who combined for 21 of the Terrapins’ 34 points. The Spartans, on the other hand, showcased another mixed bag with nine different players in the scoring column, led by Christie with 10 (3-for-3 from deep).

A Malik Hall floater as the shot clock expired followed by a Brown 3-pointer gave the Spartans a 20-point lead with 13:02 remaining, forcing Manning to call timeout. Michigan State looked like its annual March self (yes, this is foreshadowing chaos).

Whatever was said or drawn-up in Manning’s huddle worked, as the Terrapins went on a little flurry to cut the lead to 10 points with just over nine minutes to play.

The squads continued trading buckets until Akins connected from three with just over three minutes to play, putting the Spartans back up by a dozen. That’s when the Terrapins began to press the hell out of the Spartans, who struggled to break it (to say the least).

MSU forward Joey Hauser rises for a 3-pointer in the Spartans’ 79-72 loss vs. Ohio State/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Joey Hauser and Walker committed back-to-back turnovers in the press, allowing Maryland to cut it back to just a six-point game, 68-62 Spartans with 1:44 to play.

Izzo called timeout to calm his guys down, but to no avail. Yet ANOTHER turnover from Bingham gave Maryland the ball back, and Russell knocked down a three.

Walker then stepped to the free throw line for a 1-and-1 opportunity after being fouled in the backcourt off the inbound. He went 2-for-2 from the stripe and the Spartans forced a traveling violation out of Ayala on the other end.

The scorching-hot Maryland press continued, forcing Hauser to inbound the ball deep into the frontcourt to Hall, but the pass was too far and Maryland came up with it yet again. Russell then drove the lane and converted an and-one layup.

MSU forward Malik Hall attempts a contested jumper during the Spartans’ 77-67 win over Maryland on March 6, 2022/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

With a two-point game hanging in the balance, Walker went to work and nailed a spin-move, fadeaway jumper to put the Spartans back up four with 40 seconds on the clock. After a missed Russell jumper, Christie corralled the rebound, was fouled, and hit his free throws to make it 74-68 Spartans with 31.1 seconds to play.

Hart made a layup off a missed three from Ayala… and then, as if a beat writer couldn’t write this sentence ever again, the Maryland press forced another Spartan turnover and gave Ayala a layup.

Two-point game, 16 ticks remaining. And a whole lot of chaos yet to unravel.

The inbound to Walker was tipped out of bounds off his leg by Ayala, giving the Terrapins a chance to tie or take the lead on an inbounds play. Russell worked on Walker and got a fairly open three, but missed it. Christie skied for the rebound once more and was fouled, sending him to the line to seal the deal for MSU.

The freshman did just that, and the Spartans escaped with the four-point win. For the game, the Spartans committed 16 turnovers, nine of which were Terrapin steals.

Christie finished with 16 points, while Brown had 13. For Maryland, it was Russell with 20 and Ayala with 17.

The Spartans will exhale and prepare to take on the No. 2 seed in this tournament, the Wisconsin Badgers, Friday night at 6:30 p.m. The Spartans and Badgers split the regular season series 1-1. Follow @WDBMSports on Twitter for all of your game coverage.

You can follow Trent Balley on Twitter at @TrentBalley.