(East Lansing) The No. 14 Spartans were hoping to ride a wave momentum into 2003, but fell flat against the unranked Toledo Rockets 81-76 at the Breslin Center.
The loss ended the Spartans (8-3) six-game win streak and 36-straight wins over non-conference teams at Breslin.
But more importantly, the loss showed the team has a lot of work ahead of them before they take on the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.
The Rockets (7-4) exposed the Spartans inability to guard the three-point shot, which has plagued MSU already in this early season. The Spartans gave up 10 three-pointers in the loss to Villanova in the semifinal of the Great Alaska Shootout.
Guards Nick Moore and Keith Triplett led the Rockets in scoring with 19 and 17 points, respectively. Moore was 4-of-7 from behind the arc and iced the game with two free throws with four seconds left.
Toledo came into the game averaging 21.8 three-point attempts per game connecting on 43 percent of those. On Monday Toledo was better than average, hitting 11-of-25 three-point field goals 44 percent in the upset victory.
Spartans head coach Tom Izzo expressed his frustration with his teams play, but also credited the Rockets and their coaching staff for their efforts.
"Theres really no surprise here today," Izzo said in the postgame news conference. "There are a lot of reasons that I want to get on my team, but Toledo outplayed us. They outshot us and outworked us and I thought we got outcoached."
Toledo, coached by former MSU assistant coach Stan Joplin (1990-96), got some revenge after the Rockets were blown out by the Spartans 78-33 in 1999. Joplin said it was great to come back to East Lansing and get a victory.
"The only reason I wanted to play Michigan State is because I thought it would be a big game to prepare us for the start of conference play and we knew they would give us that challenge," Joplin said after the game.
The Rockets built a 65-52 lead with 10:13 seconds left to play, but the Spartans refused to quit. After a lay-up by forward Kareem Milson, sophomore guard Chris Hill knocked down a three-point shot to knot the score at 71-71 with 1:53 remaining.
Moore and sophomore guard Kelvin Torbert traded three-point shots to tie the game once again with 1:07 left.
Triplett was fouled and knocked down 1-of-2 free throws. Triplett was fouled twice more down the stretch, and connected on all four shots, to extend the lead to 79-76 with 16 seconds left. He finished the game 9-of-10 from the line.
After a Toledo timeout the Spartans had a chance to tie the game once more, put a pass of the hand of Ballinger rolled out of bounds with 6 seconds remaining.
Moore was fouled with 3.6 seconds to secure the victory for the Rockets.
The Spartans were led in scoring by Hill who finished with 19 points, 10 of those coming from the free throw line. Torbert dropped in a season-high 16 points and pulled down 7 rebounds.
Senior forward Al Anagoyne provided a solid low-post game, also pouring in 16 points and ripping 7 rebounds.
"The better team won tonight. I want you to understand that the better team won tonight," Izzo said. "They outplayed us in just about every phase. We tried a phony comeback and lost. We didnt deserve to win at the end."
The Rockets showed they were not intimidated by the Spartans or the sell crowd, taking a 32-30 lead with four minutes left in the first half and never trailing again. The Rockets extended the lead to 41-33 after a pair of free throws from Triplett with 1:30 left in the half.
The Spartans refused to go down by double digits at half. Senior forward Al Anagoyne electrified the crowd with a tip-dunk and drew the foul, cutting the lead to 41-38 at half.
The second half play proved to be much of the same. Whenever MSU fought to with a basket of tying the game, the Rockets knocked down a key three-point or find the wide open shot right under the basket to thwart the run.
The Spartans had plenty of opportunities to put themselves ahead, thanks in part to the 37 free throws the team attempted. The Spartans knocked down 27 of them, but that wasnt enough to stop a red-hot Toledo team.
The Rockets shot a blistering 52 percent from the field, while shooting 84 percent from the free throw line. The Spartans also just narrowly won the rebounding battle, 26-24.
The Spartans will have four days before their matchup with the Sooners, who beat up on UNC Asheville for a 100-64 victory. The Sooners were coming off a 9-point loss to No. 10 Mississippi State.
Game time is scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday in Oklahoma City, Ok.