Kadeem Allen went coast-to-coast for a game-winning layup as the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats beat the No. 12 Michigan State Spartans 65-63 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In a game that featured six second-half lead changes, it was Allen’s go-ahead bucket that finally put Arizona ahead for good with 1.9 seconds left.
"He is the guy that every coach in the country would love to have on their team because he only cares about winning," Arizona head coach Sean Miller told ESPN after the game. "It's incredible to watch him make the shot and get the steal, it's what should happen."
Arizona trailed 60-59 with three minutes left after Miles Bridges put the Spartans up, but Lauri Markkanen gave the Wildcats the lead, hitting a jumper in the paint to put Arizona up 61-60.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright — after fighting an MSU big man for a rebound — hit a floater to make it 63-60.
However, Tum Tum Nairn Jr. hit a 3 with 7.5 seconds left to tie things up at 63-63.
Arizona inbounded the ball to Allen, and nobody got in his way as he went the distance, kissing the ball off the glass to send the Wildcats to victory.
"Putting the ball in (Allen's) hands in that situation was I think the smart move, and he did a great job finishing," Miller said.
Early on, you wouldn’t have guessed that Arizona would win this game.
Michigan State jumped out to a 17-2 lead in the first six minutes with the help from Miles Bridges, who scored seven of MSU’s first 12 points.
But Arizona’s defense tightened and it went on a 22-4 run, with Kobi Simmons hitting a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 24-21 with 5:24 left in the half.
Simmons had 15 points in the first half off the bench, helping Arizona end the half up 34-30.
"We just got off to a terrible start, but a lot of times when you're not at home and you get off to a slow start, you don’t necessarily put it behind you, but we did and I credit our team for being able to do that." Miller said.
Arizona took a 43-34 lead early in the second half, but MSU quickly countered, and a 3-pointer by Alvin Ellis III put the Spartans up 51-46 with 10:43 left in regulation.
Arizona would re-take a 57-56 lead with 4:58 left after a layup by Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
There would be three more lead changes, but the Wildcats were able to escape Honolulu with the victory, starting the season with a huge win.
Here some other takeaways:
Dusan Ristic struggles
Arizona’s starting center was a non-existent against the Spartans, as he missed his first five shots and didn’t get on the board until there was roughly seven minutes left in the game.
He couldn’t establish deep post position, and looked uncomfortable when he did get the ball on the block. Ristic finished with two points on 1-6 shooting.
He didn’t make an impact defensively or the glass either, finishing with just three rebounds.
Sean Miller understandably went with Chance Comanche at center down the stretch, and Comanche was an improvement, scoring eight points and grabbing five boards in 18 minutes.
Neither Ristic nor Comanche had a block.
Simmons sparks offense
Arizona’s offense struggled to get going at the start, as it took them more than four minutes to get their first points. Who scored the first basket? Kobi Simmons, and it was just the beginning of a terrific first half performance.
Simmons scored 15 first half points, and needed just six shots to do it. He hit two 3s and made 5 of 6 of his free throw attempts.
“I want to enter a game always with confidence,” Simmons said. “I always have confidence and I just have to bring that spark, and I did that.”
He was quiet in the second half, scoring just three points before leaving the game at the 2:27 mark after rolling his ankle.
He finished with 18 points, but didn’t record an assist or a rebound. Still, it was a strong — and much-needed — performance by Simmons in his debut.
“He stepped up big time,” Allen said of Simmons. “He really carried the team on his back...We fed off his energy.”
Simmons’ 18 points were the most by an Arizona freshman in his debut since Jerryd Bayless posted 18 points in 2007-08.
“Kobi Simmons for a freshman showed a lot of ability,” Miller said. “At halftime, he had 15 of our 34 points, and that’s a big reason we were able to get back in the game. He was outstanding. He has a lot of talent. We watch him everyday and I think the best has yet to come from him too.”
Allen makes amends
Kadeem Allen had a rough night, shooting 3-11 from the field with zero assists and two turnovers, but all can be forgotten after he sank the game-winner.
Plus, he had three steals and a block to help offset his struggles offensively.
Jackson-Cartwright contributes in other ways
From a box score perspective, Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s numbers don’t stand out.
He scored nine points on 4-11 shooting, plus shot just 1-6 from 3 with his only make being a desperation 3 on a broken play.
He also had just three turnovers to two assists.
Still, he made two of the biggest plays of the game.
After Markkanen put Arizona up 61-60, Jackson-Cartwright outfought a Michigan State big man for a rebound, then scored on the other end to extend Arizona’s lead to 63-60. It might have been the most important sequence of the game.
PJC did have three steals too. As a whole, you’d like to see his offensive output become more efficient, but even when it wasn’t, he managed to make a positive impact.
Markkanen makes impact
Lauri Markkanen didn’t get as many touches as he probably should have, but when he did he made them count. He shot 2-3 from 3, hit 3-4 from the line and had a couple clutch baskets late in the second half.
He was also tied for the team lead in rebounds with six, with Keanu Pinder being the other player with half a dozen. Pinder helped turn Arizona’s defense around in the first half, as he had a team-best +11 plus-minus in the period.
Here was Arizona’s full box score:
Arizona returns to action Tuesday when it hosts CSU Bakersfield. Tip off is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire. All quotes were transcribed from ArizonaWildcats.com, unless specified otherwise.