Spartans rout Tennessee Tech, shore up concerns ahead of Las Vegas Invitational

Luke Sloan, Assistant Sports Editor

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State men’s basketball routed the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles 101-33, using a big first-half run to take over the game and claim victory. Tonight’s contest wasn’t a test for the Spartans, but they were able to shore up certain areas of concern.

“We went into the game with three or four goals. Improve defensively, not turn the ball over, and get a little better ball movement,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said following the game. “I thought at times we accomplished all of them, it’s a shame at the end we had two turnovers and then all of the sudden it was seven or eight.”

Headed into the contest, the health of MSU forward Nick Ward’s ankle was a major question mark for the team who relies on him so heavily. His injury would no longer remain a mystery just minutes into the contest, when he scored the Spartans’ first eight points of the game with emotional flair.

“I’m really pleased with Nick (Ward),” said Izzo. “When you watch it on film he had a normal ankle tweak. When you’ve never really been injured, you get scared. By the next day I think he could have played. I was going to hold him out of this game to be fair, but he practiced well the next two days.”

The Spartans would encounter some shooting woes as they moved towards halftime, but these struggles subsided with a Foster Loyer and-one opportunity with 7:11 to go in the half. MSU would take this momentum and run with it, finishing the first half on a 19-0 run to grab a 42-14 lead.

The rejuvenated Ward led Michigan State with 10 points on the run and 18 in the half, Cassius Winston added 11 points in the first half. Three-point shooting hampered the Spartans in their last game against Louisiana-Monroe, when the team went 6-29 from deep. This trend would continue early in the first half, as MSU shot 3-13 until the late scoring run.

“The only negative of the night was the number of wide-open threes we missed in the first half,” Izzo noted about the stat.

Michigan State would pick up right where they left off to open the final half, going on an 11-0 run to extend their lead and prompt a Golden Eagle timeout. It was all Spartans from there, as they outscored the Golden Eagles 59-19 in the second half en route to a 101-33 victory. With the 100 point mark achieved, MSU notched their 50th 100 point game in program history.

The 68 point victory also ties the largest margin of victory in MSU history. Jack Hoiberg, the Spartan who sunk two free-throws to achieve both historical marks, was given high praise by Matt McQuaid following the game.

“That’s my roommate, I’ll be joking around with him tonight about getting those two buckets. You know they were actually pretty big free throws to tie the margin. I’m happy for him, hopefully he gets more of them.”

Winston followed up his 23-point performance against Louisiana-Monroe with 19 points and 6 assists. To the pleasure of many MSU fans, Ward returned from injury and dominated stretches of the contest, finishing with 23. McQuaid bounced back nicely from his scoreless game, putting up 8 points and 5 assists.

MSU would limit their turnovers for a second straight game, only managing 8 and once again improving from their early-season struggles in that category. Three point shooting concerns were also corrected, with the Spartans shooting 14-33 on the game. Despite poor shooting numbers for Tennessee Tech (29.4 percent), Izzo’s club still showed intensity on the defensive end of the floor, only allowing 33 points.

“Some of it is the competition, I’m not going to lie,” Izzo admitted when discussing his defense. “I think some of it is us too. Cassius played a lot better today against quicker guys. I thought we did a better job of shrinking the court and not giving up threes. We spent a lot of time on it.”

With their inferior conference opponents now in the rear-view mirror, the Spartans (3-1) now look to face UCLA in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational. The Bruins are led by veteran head coach Steve Alford, along with center Moses Brown and guard Kris Wilkes, who each average over 19 points per game.

“We just have to emphasize on our turnovers and play as hard as we can defensively. We play Spartan basketball and we should be fine,” Ward said when asked what his team must do to prepare for UCLA.

While many look at a blowout like tonight’s contest and believe nothing can be taken from it, this game not only served as a confidence booster for MSU, but also an opportunity to improve in certain areas as Big Ten play inches closer.

“We finished better tonight,” Izzo said. “I feel a little bit better about where we’re at.”