MADISON SQUARE GARDEN–New York, NY

The inaugural game of the Champions Classic opened with history as Duke’s Coach Mike Krzyzewski won his 903rd Division I game.  Behind a second half surge, his Blue Devils outlasted the Spartans in the end, 74-69.  In front of a sold out 19,979 at Madison Square Garden, which included celebrities, unemployed NBAers, and  the top Basketball atmosphere in the world, MSU had no answer for a Duke 2nd Half push that put them ahead comfortably, by more than 15.  That run proved enough to hold off a late spurt by MSU which cut the final margin to 5.

Michigan St. got off to a good start as Brandon Wood and Branden Dawson made plays to help the Spartans build a 6-point lead about mid-way through the 1st.  The team looked more poised than in Friday’s opener, and dictated the tempo on a good Duke team.  But from there, the Devils regrouped and adjusted enough to close the half strong and walk into the locker room with a 34-33 edge.  “It was our inside guys tonight…we just didn’t finish,” Tom Izzo said.

Led by Andre Dawkins (26 pts.) and Seth Curry (20 pts.), Duke took the game over during a second half stretch where the MSU Big Men (Adreian Payne & Derrick Nix) missed shots from close range, and couldn’t keep possession.  Yet, credit Duke for taking advantage of their opportunity and making the most of it by hitting some triples.  Had they not made as many in such a short period, the Spartans might have been able to weather the storm a bit more.

In the end, the Spartans fell too far behind and hit too cold a spot in the early 2nd to comeback.  The late push of their own which had a Dukie or two considering a brief sweat, was led by Keith Appling, who finished with 22 points but again had a little foul trouble too early in the game.

The Spartans had their chances to beat the Blue Devils for the second straight year, but didn’t.  Last year’s game seemed more like one the Spartans lost, but this year’s version looked a lot more like a game the Devils won.  “I think it was more Duke than it was us (tonight),” Izzo explained.

For Krzyzewski it was a special night in a very special place to hit the magic number, under the watchful eye of his mentor (and past rival) Bob Knight.  Yet, Krzyzewski said he’s been getting “too much attention,” for this record, in part because there’s no NBA news to populate the world of Basketball.  “I’m more into not losing than winning,” Krzyzewski admitted when reflecting on how he got to 903.  But he also conceded that without struggles early on in his career, he never would’ve found such success.  “You need to get knocked back, because then you change.”  Tonight his Devils did that after a so-so start.

For Spartan Basketball, they’ve been knocked down now twice in 5 days by two teams that expect to be playing on the second weekend of the Dance next April for a trip to another Final Four.  Will the Spartans change from here?  How will they adapt and grow from their experiences these first two games?

You could make an argument that last year’s Spartans went downhill after the Duke game, and that if that game had gone the Spartans’ way, MSU would’ve had a very different season.  This is a much different team, a team that’s a ways still from establishing its roles, its rotation, and an identity.  It’s got exciting young players, younger attitudes, and fewer expectations.  Moving on, Izzo said he’s looking for his team to play better inside, quit turning the ball over so much, and simply needs time for his new players and lineups to experience playing with one another.

“We’re going to be better for playing these two games,” Izzo concluded.  That’s generally been the tradition of Michigan St. Basketball over the years.  Time will tell if that’s again the case this year.