NEWARK, N.J. -- Though it ultimately came in a losing effort, Seton Hall star Myles Powell not only started against No. 3 Michigan State five days after suffering a sprained ankle, he scored 37 points in a 76-73 defeat.
"Myles is one of the great players I've ever seen in college basketball," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Powell's coach, Kevin Willard, concurred: "He's the best player in the country. It's not even close."
Powell suffered the ankle injury Saturday in Seton Hall's 74-57 win over Stony Brook, playing just four minutes before exiting. After the victory, Willard said the injury didn't "look like a one-game, two-game" injury, and that he was expecting a "prolonged absence." However, Powell was a game-time decision for Thursday's showdown after improving throughout the week.
He didn't take part in most of the pregame drills, but when No. 12 Seton Hall came back out for layup lines shortly before tipoff, Powell was with the team and named a starter.
Willard said Powell didn't practice on Wednesday, but when the team went back to the locker room for film, Powell told Willard he could play.
"I knew he'd play, I didn't think he would be able to do what he did," Willard said. "That just shows you what a special player he is."
Thursday's tilt was billed as a battle between two of the best guards in the country: Powell and Michigan State's Cassius Winston, the preseason favorite for the John R. Wooden Award. Both players got off to slow starts, with Winston picking up two fouls and turning it over four times in eight first-half minutes and Powell hitting just one of his first five shots.
But the second half was as entertaining as the first half was ugly.
Both teams shot better than 50% from the field after halftime, hitting a combined 15 3-pointers. Winston had 17 points and three assists in the second. But it was Powell who stole the show. He had 24 of his 37 points in the second half, making four 3-pointers, including several off-balance shots with defenders in his face.
"I don't know if God could've stopped him on some of those shots," Izzo said.
"They got big guys, and they know how to set good screens," Watts said. "He's a flat-out scorer, he knows how to score the ball. He got hella confidence. I respect him."
With Powell hitting Michigan State with haymaker after haymaker from the perimeter, the Spartans needed a spark offensively. It came from a surprising place.
Freshman forward Malik Hall, who hadn't scored a single point in his first five halves of college basketball, scored 17 second-half points off the bench, going 7-for-7 from the field.
Hall scored eight consecutive points midway through the half, and he also hit the go-ahead layup with 26 seconds remaining.
"A lot of pick-and-pops. Coach called a couple actions, role-replace actions," Hall said. "For the most part, they just weren't coming out, so I just kept shooting."
Winston, whose younger brother died after getting hit by a train on Saturday night, did not speak with reporters after the game. Michigan State wore patches on their jerseys that said "Smoothie," the nickname of Zachary Winston.
"I don't know who could've guarded Powell. He did an incredible job and deserves every accolade he gets. But Cassius Winston does, too," Izzo said. "It might not have seemed like it tonight. But to play with the broken heart he has, to play with the mental part of the game that he's been through? I think we saw two superstar guards tonight."
For Michigan State, this was a bounce-back, marquee win after losing to Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last week. But Powell's 37 points for Seton Hall will go down as one of the more impressive performances this season -- in perhaps the best early-season game so far.
"That was a March game in November," Izzo said. "College basketball needs games like that."