No. 2 Spartans set records but looking for more after rout of Houston Baptist


EAST LANSING, Mich.–Houston Baptist could do little to stop Michigan State’s fast break offense all day, a point that was emphasized early in Monday night’s action at the Breslin Center.

With 11:40 left in the first half, Tum Tum Nairn pushed the ball to Josh Langford in transition. Langford took a step inside the three-point line and threw a lob to Miles Bridges, who slammed it home over a helpless Edward Hardt while being fouled. Within seconds, Hardt was joined by the Huskies’ bench in chuckling about the dominant play from the Spartans’ uber-athletic superstar.

“After the game he said ‘I hate you,’” Bridges reminisced after the game. “But he made a play. It was good sportsmanship.”

The highlight-reel poster pushed the No. 2 Spartans’ lead to double digits, as they coasted to a 107-62 victory over their Southland Conference opponents. The 107 points were the most scored by the Spartans (11-1 overall) since Dec. 4, 2011, when they dropped 110 on Nebraska-Omaha.

The numbers were staggering across the board in the 45-point victory, starting with a new school-record 16 blocks, shattering the previous high of 13. The Spartans came into the game second in the nation, averaging more than eight rejections per game. Jaren Jackson led the way with six, as the Huskies had no match down low for the Spartans’ length.

“We blocked shots because we were a lot bigger than the team we played,” Izzo said. “We are a good shot-blocking team, and I thought Jaren did a great job considering he had foul trouble and had to block shots from a distance.”

Individually, the statistical accolades flowed as well. Bridges tied a career-high with 33 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Cassius Winston set a new career-high with 12 assists, while Nick Ward shot a perfect 9-for-9 on his way to 20 points.

“My star by far was Nick Ward,” coach Tom Izzo said. “He communicated, he stepped up on ball screens, he guarded smaller guys, he scored in the post, he ran the lane. His communication was off the charts. By far the best player on the court for us.”

However—to no surprise—their legendary head coach was not in the mood to anoint the team’s statistical dominance in a game it was supposed to win going away.

“I’m not very happy. I’m not very pleased,” Izzo said. “As far as heart, courage, toughness, [HBU] played with it, and we didn’t.”

The Spartans fell behind the undermanned Huskies (4-8 overall) in rebounds early in the game, and did not catch up until midway through the second half. Izzo’s team only outrebounded their counterparts 43-39 in the end, an underwhelming difference considering they came into the game fourth in the nation in rebounding margin at +11.4.

“For a team like that to get 24 offensive rebounds, they just absolutely embarrassed us,” Izzo said. “It was a shame.”

[su_pullquote align=”right”]“I’m not very happy. I’m not very pleased… As far as heart, courage, toughness, [HBU] played with it, and we didn’t.”
–Tom Izzo[/su_pullquote]

Still, the game was never really in doubt, as the Spartans shot 70 percent in the first half on their way to 54 points. Winston tallied 10 first-half assists while Bridges scored 20 before the break.

“Offensively I think we had a pretty good game,” Winston said. “We had the ball moving and people were knocking down shots.”

Players took issue with the rebounding discrepancy, a weak point of the game considering how the Huskies were without their leading scorer and rebounder Josh Ibarra, a 6-foot-11 center.

“The rebounding is going to kill us,” Bridges said. “The Big Ten is a physical conference. We can’t turn the ball over against those teams because anybody can beat anybody in the Big Ten.”

All in all, the players and Izzo agreed that the enormous margin of victory was not indicative of the lackluster effort put in against a severely undermatched opponent—a scenario the Spartans will deal with for much of the rest of the season.

“I told my team, there’s efforts to win games and efforts to win championships,” the 23rd-year head coach said. “We gave an effort to win a game.”

The contest was the first of five straight at the Breslin Center for the Spartans, who have won 11 straight home games dating back to last season. They welcome Long Beach State to the arena on Thursday with tipoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m.