EAST LANSING, Mich.—It may have been bone-chilling in East Lansing at tipoff, but Michigan State men’s basketball kept its sizzling hot winning streak going in the opener to the rest of the Big Ten season.
The newly-minted No. 1 Spartans began the 2018 calendar with a dismantling of their first Big Ten opponent in a month, routing Maryland 91-61 Thursday night at the Breslin Center. The Spartans (15-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) played two Big Ten games in early December, defeating Nebraska and Rutgers.
With the Izzone alumni in town, the green-clad Spartans won their 14th straight game thanks to their efficient team offense. Ten Spartans scored on the day, led by Nick Ward’s 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. No Spartan took more than nine shots, as they spread the ball around to the talented cast of Jaren Jackson (15 points), Miles Bridges (15 points) and Cassius Winston (10 points).
The Spartans shared the rock all game, dishing out 30 assists on 32 made baskets. They shot 57 percent from the field and 57 percent from long range. The Spartans’ 16 made threes on 28 attempts were the most this season.
Tom Izzo has been most unhappy with the team’s carelessness with the ball throughout the season, and his team responded with a vengeance in snapping the Terps’ seven-game winning streak. After having six turnovers in the first 10:07, the Spartans had only one turnover the rest of the way.
“I thought the most impressive stat for us [was]to have seven turnovers,” Izzo said. “Our guys were more fired up about that than almost the win.”
Izzo attested the increased focus to his team’s leadership.
“I was pleased at the end of the game to hear Miles say, ‘If anybody turns it over’… and he went on,” he said, alluding to his superstar continuing with some un-quotable language. “God, I was proud of him. That meant a lot to me.”
Bridges didn’t explain his exact words, but he did mention the gist of his message after the game.
“It’s our New Year’s resolution,” he said. “We said we’re going to limit our turnovers. I said some of the guys [would have to]run sprints in practice if we turn the ball over any more.”
Maryland competed for a good stretch of the first half, benefiting from the early Spartan turnovers. The Terps got out to a hot start, raining in three-pointers and hitting eight of their first 10 shots. They held a 27-26 lead with 7:48 left in the first half, but the Spartans then took the lead on a Nick Ward layup and never lost the lead. They closed the half on a 15-3 lead to go into the break up 44-32.
“I thought we competed in transition defense and on the boards until about the 12-minute mark of the second half,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “Then we just kind of didn’t have it. They just kept grinding us from there and built the lead up more and more. They are a heck of a team.
Two unlikely Spartans sunk three-pointers in the first half, much to the delight of Izzo. Kenny Goins hit his first two attempts of the night after shooting his first attempt of the year on Sunday against Savannah State. Tum Tum Nairn also pulled up from three to hit his sixth attempt of the season.
“We maybe could have separated ourselves a little bit early and got a lead, but we couldn’t because those guys knocked down shots,” Turgeon said.
The Breslin Center was host to over a thousand alumni members that sat in the usual student section seats. The crowd brought the energy and noise all night, powering the Spartans from the opening tip.
“The alumni game is always fun,” Bridges said. “They bring the most energy, no offense to the students, but they bring a lot of energy. It was really fun out there, and I was just glad to see that everybody was able to make it.”
The Spartans closed out a five-game homestand and will travel to Columbus for a Sunday matinee against Ohio State. Tipoff is set for 4:30 ET.