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November 9, 2012RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, GERMANY - With one quarter of its player minutes logged by true freshmen and the rest filled by players in new or expanding roles, Michigan State looked like a team in need of a few more weeks of practice and not quite ready for Friday's national tip-off loss to UConn, 66-62, in the Armed Forces Classic.
Shabazz Napier scored 25 points as the Huskies upset No. 14 Michigan State in Kevin Ollie's first game as the Huskies' head coach.
UConn led most of the way and by as many as 16 points in the first half of the game, which was played in a hangar at the United States' Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Keith Appling scored 17 points and Branden Dawson had 15 points and seven rebounds for Michigan State.
"We had our moments when we looked like a bunch of freshmen out there," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "We had some freshmen that played a lot of minutes. We had some issues. But they played harder than we did in the first half and that's when the game was won and lost.
"We just looked like a team that wasn't quite ready offensively to do the things you've got to do and those are the things that we are going to have to grow on.
"Very disappointing. I thought we would play much better than we played and it was disappointing to be honest."
Freshman Gary Harris scored to pull the Spartans to 62-60, but freshman Denzel Valentine and Appling each missed a shot in the last minute that would have tied the game, forcing Michigan State to foul.
Related: Izzo Post-Game Video
Napier hit four free throws in the final 13 seconds to seal the win.
"This one is a little more disappointing because it's a game that if we find a way to play better in the first half, we would find a way to win. Our kids will learn from it, I guess. We'll get better. We've got a lot of work to do.
"So we have a lot of issues that we have to look at. We still have good enough talent, we just have to figure out where to play them, how to sub, which is hard to do, especially when you have some guys that have been injured and you're trying to figure out how much everybody can go."
Ryan Boatright had 13 points, despite rolling his ankle in the second half, and DeAndre Daniels added 12 for the Huskies.
The 14th-ranked Spartans hit just one of their first eight shots, while Connecticut made nine of its first 10, and raced out to a 20-6 lead on a 3-pointer from Napier.
A steal by Napier and a lob to Ryan Boatright made it 32-18 Huskies, who stretched that to 16. The Spartans closed the half on a 10-2 run, but trailed 40-33 at intermission.
Boatright rolled his left ankle less that 3 minutes into the second half and was hobbled the rest of the game.
The Huskies, who shot 46 percent while holding the Spartans to 40 percent, won despite being outrebounded 34-25.
Ollie took over the program after Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun retired in September. He has been given only a one-year contract with a team that returns just five players who saw significant playing time last season.
The Huskies, who finished last season a disappointing 20-14 a year after winning the program's third national title, are picked to finish ninth in the Big East this season and are academically ineligible for the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
This is the first season that someone other than Jim Calhoun has been the head coach since Dom Perno coached his final game in 1986.
Michigan State lost its second consecutive opener after winning 33 of its previous 34. The Spartans lost last year to North Carolina in another military tribute game, the Carrier Classic.
Harris finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting in 30 minutes of playing time.
MSU was 4-of-17 from 3-point range.
The Spartans enjoyed a 43-29 edge on the boards.
The inside tandem of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne scored just 6 points apiece on 3-of-7 shooting.
Payne had 2 rebounds in just 15 minutes of playing time. Alex Gauna played just one minute and was yanked after being called for an illegal ball screen.
Russell Byrd, who was expected to be an option at the four, played just 10 minutes and didn't attempt a field goal and had just one rebound.
Dawson played many of his 34 minutes at the four. Freshman Denzel Valentine played 24 minutes in taking up some of the slack caused by the power forward issues.
"We had to play B.J. at the four some. That was one of the issues that we had; can we play Payne at the four? Payne came back and played better but did not play very well in the first half."
Back-up guard Travis Trice played just 18 minutes and was lost in the second half to a head knock.
"Trice, it looks like he might have a concussion," Izzo said. "That's not a good situation for us because Keith had to play so many minutes for us. He tired a little bit.
"We couldn't play Brandan Kearney (6 minutes) much because he was winded; he had a little problem, he got an infection while he was here.
"It's hard for me to talk about the number of things we did poorly.
"Nix played very well early and then tired a little bit. Payne played very poorly early and then he came back and played a little better the second half. BJ was great early and then okay in the second half.
"The problem is you can't play leaky defense for a half, miss lay-ups, miss some shots, give them some lay-ups. There were a lot of different things that went on in that first half, none of them very good except for Nix and B.J. I thought the rest of the guys started out turning the ball over. Later on Keith got a little tired and we were unable to play Trice.
"Connecticut played awfully hard but they made some shots the first half and we didn't check very well. They made some shots and we missed some lay-ups. I think we had four turnovers for touchdowns and you don't make up for that against decent teams. That's a good team. Those guard are great. The rest of them played pretty well."