Rocket Watts Leads No. 8 Michigan State to Comeback Win vs. No. 6 Duke

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2020

Michigan State guard Rocket Watts runs up court during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

No. 8 Michigan State added a key nonconference win to its resume with a 75-69 victory over No. 6 Duke in Tuesday's Champions Classic.

Duke jumped out to an early double-digit lead in an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it was all Michigan State from there as the visitors dominated on both ends. Duke shot just 32.3 percent from the field, including 21.7 percent from three-point range.

Though Duke cut a 13-point deficit in the final minutes down to five, the comeback attempt fell short.

The Spartans (3-0) had five players in double figures led by Rocket Watts with 20 points, helping the team snap a four-game losing streak in this event. Duke (1-1) had three straight wins before falling short this time around.

Matthew Hurt earned his second career double double in a rare bright spot for the Blue Devils against the more experienced opponent.

      

Notable Performances

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Rocket Watts, G, MSU: 20 points, 3 rebounds 2 assists

Joey Hauser, F, MSU: 11 points, 10 rebounds

Aaron Henry, F, MSU: 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks

Matthew Hurt, F, Duke: 21 points, 13 rebounds

Jalen Johnson, F, Duke: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks

Jordan Goldwire, G, Duke: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals

     

Michigan State Showcases Depth After Slow Start

It looked like it would be a long day for Michigan State, which had just nine points in the first 10 minutes and struggled mightily offensively:

Early foul trouble for Joey Hauser and Thomas Kithier made things even more difficult in the first half.

The Spartans were able to turn things around with more balanced play and contributions from a lot of different sources.

Aaron Henry wasn't the most efficient player but made a huge impact while filling up the stat sheet:

Rocket Watts was then key in the second half while using his speed to keep Duke off balanced:

Hauser made up for his limited first half with eight points in the second, showing why he was one of the most sought-after transfers on the market. 

Malik Hall (10 points and 10 rebounds) and Julius Marble II (12 points) also played well off the bench, while the entire team did its job defensively to force tough shots.

Even without a true go-to option like Cassius Winston, Michigan State could be a dangerous team this season.

      

Inconsistency Causes Problems for Duke Youngsters

Duke has four 5-star recruits in this freshman class, per 247Sports, but they didn't all have their best day Tuesday.

Jalen Johnson was impressive at times and showed many of the skills that make him an elite pro prospect:

On the other hand, foul trouble limited him to just seven minutes in the first half. Duke had a seven-point lead at the time of his second foul and ended the half down four.

His moments in the second half were few and far between, hardly resembling the player who had 19 and 19 in his debut.

DJ Steward also struggled, finishing 0-of-7 from the field on his way to six points. 

Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams were mostly invisible when they were on the court.

The more experienced players for Duke fared better, notably sophomore Matthew Hurt.

Junior Joey Baker was the Blue Devils' most active defender with four steals while senior Jordan Goldwire was a major factor in the second half.

The freshmen will improve as the year progresses, but this was a step back after a strong start for these players against Coppin State.

     

What's Next?

Duke will continue its season Friday with a game against Bellarmine, a team making its Division I debut. Michigan State will return home to take on Detroit Mercy.