No. 10 Spartans win high-scoring home opener against FGCU

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EAST LANSING, Mich.– Coming off a season-opening loss to No. 1 Kansas in the Champions Classic, No. 10 Michigan State took on Florida Gulf Coast in the Breslin Center Sunday night. The last time these teams faced off was in 2016, where MSU squeezed out a win, 78-77. This year, the Spartans stayed on top with a victory, 106-82.

“I think it’s a typical Coach Izzo team,” FGCU head coach Michael Fly said. “We talked about this coming in; they’re always gonna try to out-rebound you. They’re about the best in the country about pitching ahead and playing in transition. If you can take them out of their sets, which they do a tremendous job of running, then you can have a chance to being in the game. It’s what we expected.”

Matt McQuaid put up the first points for the Spartans, with a three-point shot at the top of the arc. The Eagles took advantage of Michigan State’s lack of defense early on. Troy Baxter Jr. scored 10 points within the first 10 minutes of the game.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” McQuaid said. “Trying to stay aggressive and give other people shots in the paint when I can’t find one.”

McQuaid ended up with 12 points and went 2-for-6 in three-point shots. Baxter Jr. scored 20 points by the end of the game, along with four rebounds.

“I like their team,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “I think they’re tough. I thought he did a great job. I thought Baxter started really good. I thought that was a great move with their coach to put him in there. He did some really good things. Made some shots, drove the ball well.”

Cassius Winston followed McQuaid’s lead and put up two three-pointers for MSU. The Eagles quickly fell behind at 23-13, not being able to keep up with MSU’s scoring outburst. Juniors Joshua Langford and Nick Ward led the first half in scoring and rebounds for MSU. Langford had 14 points and seven rebounds, while Ward had 13 points and seven rebounds.

“His energy was off the charts,” Izzo said of Langford. “When you rebound like that, your energy is off the charts… Joshua goes 7-15, and I thought he had some great three-point looks that he’s been making.”

Although the Spartan offense hustled and stayed aggressive with the ball, their defense was not there. The Eagles were able to make uncontested shots and stop MSU’s momentum. Against Florida Gulf Coast, the Spartans got away with their defensive shortcomings, but the Big Ten Conference will not be as forgiving.

“I think we’ll be really good offensively,” Izzo said. “Defensively I’m concerned. Josh is one of our best defensive players too, him and McQuaid. But they had a lot of guys that I thought gave us some defensive problems.”

The Spartan freshmen provided the team with 12 points off the bench. Aaron Henry and Marcus Bingham Jr. got another chance to show off their offensive capabilities, while Foster Loyer showed his leadership running the offense.

“We’re trying to get a good look at whether (Loyer) is going to be ready to go, because we’re about to embark on a five-game, 13 days against some pretty stiff competition,” Izzo said. “Trying to look at a couple guys, give them some opportunities. But it’s not gonna be a 10, 11 man playing group right now, especially with those freshmen.”

“I’m just trying to give them as much opportunity as I can and I’m trying to get some confidence in our upperclassmen and teaching them how hard they have to play. Foster’s gonna be a good player, but it’s going to take some time to not make the mistakes. Our point guards have to give it up and get it back more.”

With 1:19 left in the first half, Ward found himself being flipped over after going up for a rebound. Eagle Haanif Cheatham was given a flagrant two foul, resulting in his ejection from the game.

Despite their six turnovers, the Spartans held a solid lead at the end of the first half at 59-35.  

The second half started with some flare from Ward, collecting two dunks assisted by Langford and Goins. The game heated up after a technical foul called on Izzo, and not too long after, Ward drew another flagrant call on Eagle Brady Ernst.

“He (Doyle) got me, but it’s all good though,” Ward said. “I was posting up and he swiped through and hit me right in the side of my face with his elbow. I just have to keep my cool and keep playing.”

Although Ward took some aggressive hits Sunday, he was able to play through it and tie his career-high number of points in a game at 25. The last time he scored 25 was in 2016 against Oakland University. He also collected 10 rebounds and a career-high four assists.

Langford was next to lead the team in scoring with 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. With fancy layups and his ability to dribble through four defenders, Langford helped the Spartans slide to victory with his first career double-double.

“I understand the level you have to play on in order to win,” Langford said. “Every chance I get, I remind guys to stay locked in and keep doing the things we have to do in order to win the ball games. I just wanted to go out there and give my team my best effort. That’s what my team needs from me, to be aggressive and to be on attack-mode. “

FGCU was not able to get closer than 16 points in the second half. Michigan State ended the night with the end of the bench closing out a 106-82 victory. The Spartans will look to defend their home court again Wednesday as they take on Louisiana-Monroe. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“I think we did really well in some areas and really bad in others,” said Winston. “That makes an average game. We don’t want any average games, we want great games.”