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No. 1 Michigan State tops Oklahoma at Barclays Center

Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins guards Michigan State's Gary Harris

Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins guards Michigan State's Gary Harris during the first half. (Nov. 23, 2013) Credit: AP

At this time of year, nothing is settled in college basketball. Saturday night's modest Barclays Center crowd of roughly 5,000 reinforced the relative insignificance of Michigan State's 87-76 victory over Oklahoma in the early-season Coaches vs. Cancer championship final.

For now, though, Michigan State is the nation's No. 1 team, a status surely boosted by past success -- 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including six Final Fours -- as much as its current 6-0 record.

Down by 11 midway through the first half, Michigan State reeled off 27 of the next 31 points and led by as many as 18. Previously unbeaten Oklahoma (4-1) crept within four twice in the final four minutes, at 73-69 and 75-71, but Michigan State regrouped.

In doing so, the Spartans reminded why, a long time ago, Michigan State had to tweak the lyrics to its fight song to reflect the school's educational and athletic diversification far beyond an original concentration on teaching agriculture and playing football.

From "its specialty is farming/and those farmers play football," the words evolved into "its specialty is winning/and those Spartans play good ball."

So while Michigan State's gridders remain unbeaten in Big Ten play this season, and are enjoying a revival this decade, it primarily is the hoops success of 19th-year coach Tom Izzo that has brought the university wide sports visibility.

Furthermore, in an era of one-and-done freshmen who quickly pass through so many campuses on their way to the NBA, Izzo continues to rely on seasoned upperclassmen.

Izzo said 6-10 senior Adreian Payne "is a perfect example that it's OK to stay in school and get better, and we'll see, when it's all said and done, where he and we end up with it."

Payne, the night after a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia Tech, was far quieter statistically against Oklahoma (four points, six rebounds). But important numbers came from senior Keith Appling (27 points), junior Branden Dawson (18 points, 10 rebounds) and sophomores Gary Harris (21 points) and Denzel Valentine (six rebounds, five assists).

And Izzo remained heartened by the teamwork that has averaged more than 21 assists per game.

Oklahoma's Cameron Clark led all scorers with 32.

Seton Hall wins. Seton Hall edged Virginia Tech, 68-67, in the consolation game. Senior Fuquan Edwin put Seton Hall ahead for good with 27 seconds to play and added four of his 18 points before the final buzzer.

New York Sports