Spartans squeak by Villanova to close out Izzo’s ‘most memorable week’


Malik Hall shoots the ball during Michigan State’s 73-71 victory over Villanova on November 18, 2022. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Liam Jackson, Sports Editor

EAST LANSING – Another night, another nail-biter for Michigan State.

The Spartans defeated Villanova 73-71 in their third straight game that came down to the last seconds of regulation on Friday night.

The Wildcats seemed to be dead in the water after a Tyson Walker jumper put MSU up by 16 points with just over eight minutes to play. Villanova fought all the way back and had a shot to win the game as the final seconds ticked. 

“I thought we were close to a knockout near the 10-minute mark,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “For all the credit I got for doing things well down the stretch against Kentucky, I should get some blame for not handling stuff very well down the stretch today.”

Despite the narrow victory, Izzo was pleased with how his team responded to a harsh early-season schedule.

“That was the most memorable week of my whole career,” Izzo said. 

MSU was the first team to ever play two teams ranked within the top four in the AP poll in November. Villanova was not ranked coming into the game, but the Wildcats began the season ranked No. 16 and have talent littered throughout the roster. 

“I was very impressed on film with Villanova,” Izzo said. “I told my team before the game that this will be the toughest team we play all year, as far as physically tough. And they were every bit of that.”

For two programs as prestigious as Michigan State and Villanova, it is surprising that this is only the fifth meeting all-time between the two schools. Izzo has only faced the Wildcats once prior. That one game was an 81-73 Wildcat victory in the 2002 Great Alaska Shootout.

The Breslin Center was bubbling with excitement as students filled the student section an hour before the game. 

While the Izzone needed no time to warm up, the Spartans sure did. Offense was hard to come by for Tom Izzo’s squad through the first 11 minutes. MSU was shooting less than 30% from the field, had no points in the paint and zero free-throw attempts.

From that point forward, the Spartans controlled the first half and were led by Joey Hauser, A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker. 

Hauser’s hot shooting streak traveled north from Indianapolis and continued in East Lansing. His confidence was apparent, yet his shot selection was not greedy. He picked his spots and was meticulous in picking apart the Wildcat defense.

The offensive flow was orchestrated by the lead guards. The last Spartan to record a triple-double was Denzel Valentine in 2015. Hoggard flirted with one on Friday. He finished with 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

“10-10-10 would be a nice triple-double for him,” Izzo said. “And yes I do think he’ll get a triple-double.”

Walker has been praised for his defensive abilities, and rightfully so. But his knack for finding space in the mid-range after a ball screen was on full display against Villanova. He was able to get to the elbow, rise and fire time and time again on his way to a team-high 22 points.

Breslin reached its peak decibel level when Jaden Akins stole an entry pass and took it all the way to the rim for a bona fide poster slam. It was the kind of play that seemed to happen in slow motion as everyone in the building could sense the malicious intent of Akins as he rose up.

“Our crowd reminded me of the old days,” Izzo said. “I thought our crowd was phenomenal. It was so good to see and it’s been a while.”

Michigan State now sits at 3-1. Its only loss was a one-point heartbreaker against No. 2 Gonzaga on an aircraft carrier. The road gets no easier as the Spartans fly back to the west coast for the Phil Knight Invitational next week to take on even more ranked opponents.