Spartans close out PKI with tight victory over Portland


MSU point guard A.J. Hoggard cans a 3-pointer during the Spartans’ 68-65 win over No. 4 Purdue on Feb. 26, 2022/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Luca Melloni, Sports Editor

PORTLAND, Ore. – In yet another game that came down to the final seconds, No. 12 Michigan State escaped the Chiles Center in Portland with a 78-77 win over the Portland Pilots. Junior point guard A.J. Hoggard led the Spartans with 12 points and nine assists to end the Phil Knight Invitational with a 2-1 record for MSU. 

“The players make the plays, but the job of a coach is to put them in a place where they can be more successful,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “We have to get better. I have to get better.” 

Michigan State is now 5-2 on the season after Sunday night’s victory. 

Early in the second half, junior center Mady Sissoko slammed dunked an alley-oop to put the Spartans up 46-42. Sissoko took a hard fall after that play and was on the floor in pain. He got up seconds later and continued playing but played limited minutes as the game went on.

The Spartans had a 12-point lead with 3:52 left in the game. A three-pointer by Pilot guard Juan Sebastian Gorosito and a series of free throws put them back in the game in the final minute. 

Pilot forward Kristian Sjolund made two threes, including one off a turnover. 

The Pilots made nine three-pointers in the first half but were held to only four in the second half. 

“They have an exciting team,” Izzo said on Portland. “They play well. They’re well-coached. They do a lot of good things.”

The Spartans relied heavily on Hoggard in the final stretch and his distribution helped his team edge past the Pilots. 

“I thought A.J. [Hoggard] struggled in the first half,” Izzo said. “Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and one of his strengths is he finishes pretty well, gets to the rim, and uses his strength. He was much better defensively in the second half.” 

Hoggard bounced back after a quiet performance against Oregon on Nov. 25. Against the Ducks, he recorded nine points and just three assists.

It was Hoggard’s left-handed jump shot that extended the Spartans’ lead late in the game. 

Another Spartan who had an impact on Sunday’s game was graduate guard Jason Whitens. Whitens played in each of the three games at the PKI tournament and played an MSU career-high 16 minutes on Sunday. 

Whitens used his athleticism to grab rebounds and even get crucial points in transition for the Spartans. 

“He does a lot for us,” Hoggard said on Whitens. “He brought energy and he got a couple of good buckets for us at the right time.” 

“He [Whitens] loves us, and he goes out there and plays hard for us,” Hoggard said. 

The Spartans were left stunned after a turnover by forward Joey Hauser led to a three-pointer by the Pilots with 43 seconds left to make it a one-point game. 

After a series of possession and an unconverted go-ahead basket by Pilots guard Tyler Robertson, the Spartans left Chiles Center with the slender 78-77 win. 

After MSU guard Pierre Brooks missed a mid-range jumper, Portland called timeout with 8.1 seconds left. They would have to go the length of the floor, which they did with ease when Robertson had an opportunity for the game-winning layup down on the block but overshot it off the glass

“The nice part is I know we can get a lot better,” Izzo said. “I have no doubt in my mind we can get a lot better.”

Michigan State will return to East Lansing on Monday and immediately prepare for a road game against Notre Dame. Tip-off on Wednesday, Nov. 30, against the Fighting Irish is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. from South Bend, Ind.