The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats battled back from a 15-point deficit but just couldn't push past Michigan State as the Spartans knocked off the nation's top-ranked team, 78-74, in the first game of the Champions Classic on Tuesday.
Keith Appling led the Spartans with 22 points and Gary Harris added 20 to give them enough to push past the Wildcats. Wildcats freshman Julius Randle had a big night, leading all players with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Randle has a double-double in all three of his college games.
The Spartans looked well on their way to overwhelming the young Wildcats right out of the gate, jumping to a 10-0 lead. They increased the lead to 15 points at one point, but Kentucky was able to whittle it away a bit and went into the half trailing by 12.
Michigan State began the second half playing well and looked on its way to a win. But a 13-1 Kentucky run cut the lead to one with eight minutes left in the game. The Wildcats tied it at 66, but an errant pass by Andrew Harrison helped the Spartans reclaim the lead with a 5-0 run. The Wildcats would fight back to within two with 30 seconds left, but Branden Dawson tipped in a shot with four seconds remaining to give the Spartans a four-point lead and the win.
As good as the Wildcats looked on occasion, their youth was on display at inopportune times. Kentucky shot much better in the second half, but made careless turnovers that allowed the Spartans to stay in the game. The Wildcats also struggled mightily from the free throw line, going 20-of-36.
The Michigan State backcourt kept the Wildcats on their toes. Branden Dawson, Keith Appling and Gary Harris combined for 11 steals as the Wildcats finished with 17 turnovers as a team. The Spartans used the takeaways to create a 21-2 fast break scoring advantage.