Mark Watts 🔥— Marcus Bingham Jr (@marcusbingham0) December 2, 2020
In a blue-blooded battle between two top-10 teams, No. 8 Michigan State claimed one of the most impressive wins of the young college basketball season by taking out No. 6 Duke 75-69 inside Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday. The Spartans (3-0) started slow but successfully dug themselves out of an early 10-point first-half deficit by halftime, and never trailed in the second half. Duke (1-1) made a late run in the final minute to cut the lead to two possessions before Michigan State swiftly thwarted it.
It was a balanced attack from Sparty across the board as five players finished in double figures and Julius Marble II, Malik Hall and Joey Hauser -- who scored 12, 10 and 11 points, respectively -- added their key contributions off the bench. Sophomore sensation Rocket Watts led the way with a team-high 20 points.
Duke got team-highs from its own returning sophomore stud, Matthew Hurt, who scored 21 points and also finished with a career-high 13 boards. But the Blue Devils struggled offensively after a quick start, finishing 20-of-62 from the floor on the night and a woeful 5-of-23 from 3-point range, three of those deep bombs coming in the final minute of the game with the outcome all but decided. MSU wasn't much better, making five of its 20 outside shots, but it compensated by making seven more shots from the floor and found its way to a more efficient outing after a sluggish start.
The win marks Tom Izzo's third over fellow Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski in 15 tries (!) and Michigan State's first at Cameron Indoor Stadium, moving it to 1-3 all-time inside the historic building. Moreover, it marks the first time Duke has fallen in a non-conference home game by more than two points since Dec. 2, 1995, when it fell 75-65 to Illinois.
Here are three key takeaways from the game.
Spartans find a rhythm, and a killer 1-2 punch
It turns out, the answer to the question of who Michigan State would turn to between Aaron Henry and Watts as its go-to scoring replacement for Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman is ... both. Watts and Henry were the clear top options in the offense in Sparty's first real test of the season, as they took a combined 37 shots between them. Watts was a bit more effective, going 7 of 16 for 20 points, 1 of 4 from 3-point range and 5 of 7 from the free-throw line. But Henry had some huge plays down the stretch as well. It was encouraging to see him attacking off the dribble and being aggressive. When he plays with confidence he's a different player who can elevate this team to a new level.
Duke's offense remains a work in progress
It looked early in this one like Duke might just blow the doors off it and make it a blowout. It opened with a 13-3 lead within six minutes of play, and everything -- from the midrange to the post -- was working on offense for the Blue Devils. It was a slog much of the rest of the night, however. The team finished 5-of-23 from 3-point range (and it was much worse when you extract garbage time), and 20-of-62 from the floor. The saving grace for Duke in this one was that it got to the line 30 times and converted 24 of those attempts into points. Duke has some options as it tries to replace sophomore sensation point guard Tre Jones but no one on the team had more than two assists, and the lack of shot-creation was a glaring weakness.
Bench depth an impressive strength for both teams
Duke got 11 points and four rebounds from Jaemyn Brakefield and 10 points and five boards from Jordan Goldwire, both of whom came off the bench. But the bigger story was the unexpected wave of production Michigan State got from its reserve unit. Malik Hall, Julius Marble II and Foster Loyer added 27 points and 17 boards off the pine, each adding their own unique contribution to affect the game -- Marble with his size and interior scoring, Hall with his length and rebounding, and Loyer with his pesky style and energy. Neither Michigan State nor Duke have the same top-end talent it had last season but both have depth for days that provide Izzo and Krzyzewski the flexibility of experimenting with different lineups if their teams stagnate. As the season moves along, rotations will solidify and stars will inevitably emerge, but having quality starters and a deep bench is a true luxury worth celebrating in a year where depth and pliability will likely be in need.