Spartans close out exhibition season with rout of Hillsdale

EAST LANSING, Mich.—While the calendar turned from October to November this week, the calendar for Michigan State’s men’s basketball team might as well read January 1, because the new season has finally approached.

In the final exhibition game of the season, Michigan State led from start to finish on its way to a 75-44 victory Friday night over Division II in-state school Hillsdale College.

Led by two double-double performances from Nick Ward (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Jaren Jackson (12 points, 13 rebounds), the green-clad Spartans imposed their will down low early and often against the Chargers at the Breslin Center, scoring 40 points in the paint compared to Hillsdale’s 20.

The Spartans jumped out to a quick start, scoring the game’s first eight points. After a Cassius Winston three-pointer pushed the lead to 17-5 halfway through the half, the Spartans never gave up their double-digit lead for the rest of the night.

“We just really had to come into the game with that focus,” Winston said. “We knew they were gonna slip, set a lot of back-screens. We had to communicate, lock in on defense, don’t have any moments where we lose our assignments. We just came in with that focus.”

Nursing a 37-20 halftime lead, MSU put the game well out of reach out of the break, outscoring the Chargers 13-3 in the half’s first six minutes. The run was capped off by a Ben Carter layup after grabbing an offensive rebound. Carter played an extremely efficient eight minutes, scoring six points and grabbing eight rebounds in easily his best effort yet in the green and white.

Coach Tom Izzo was pleased with his team’s overall defensive effort, especially considering Hillsdale offered the third different offensive style that his team has seen thus far. The Chargers’ offense was much more perimeter-oriented, running a motion offense heavy in flares and back-screens.

“Exhibition games, they’re a good test for us,” Miles Bridges said after scoring a quiet 10 points. “We played against a big team, an athletic team and a team that moves really well off the ball. So I felt like [those were] all the key components on defense for us.”

On top of giving up a low total of 44 points on 25 percent shooting, the Spartans also didn’t allow the Chargers’ leading returning scorer Stedman Lowry to score a single point.

“We are getting more steals, we’re staying a little active,” Izzo said. “I have very little to complain about [with] our defense.”

On the offensive end, the Spartans struggled in stretches to get shots to fall. Eleven Spartans scored in the game, but the team shot just under 46 percent for the game.

“I just didn’t like, offensively, it was dribble, dribble, dribble,” Izzo said. “We had a lot of guys hunting shots. We were settling for three’s early. I didn’t like our flow offensively at all.”

Along with execution, Izzo was also displeased with the lack of movement without the ball from his experienced squad. However, some of the offense’s ineptitude was more by design with the schedule in mind.

“We didn’t want to run a lot of stuff, because we’ve got games coming up,” Izzo said. “So we didn’t really run many things offensively.”

After closing out a 3-0 exhibition season, the Spartans certainly seemed eager to take on the regular season grind under the spotlight of a No. 2 national ranking.

“I think that’s part of the problem,” Izzo said. “They let us practice in the summer now, which is good, but it makes it long. They started us two weeks earlier. It feels like we’ve been practicing for 100 years already.

“I think this team is ready for it. I think they’re sick of practices.”

The Spartans will have a week to practice in advance of next Friday’s regular season opener at the Breslin Center. The game against North Florida will tip off at 8:00 p.m.