No. 10 Spartans crush Iowa, improve to 2-0 in Big Ten

EAST LANSING, Mich. — For the first time in two weeks, No. 10 Michigan State returned to the Breslin to battle against No. 18 Iowa Monday night. The Spartans met with the Hawkeyes in February of last year where they won 96-93. This year, MSU came away with the win 90-68.

“Franny’s got a good team,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “I’ve seen this team play. They’re a lot better than they played tonight. I think that’s going to be the hard part of Big Ten games at this time. It’s hard to say why teams get up or don’t get up.”

After a solid victory at Rutgers Friday night, the Spartans came out a little unsteady, as it was only their second Big Ten conference game of the season. MSU struggled to obtain the lead until Spartan Cassius Winston threw a spontaneous and clean pass to Nick Ward for a crowd-pleasing dunk. That play tied the game at 15 with 12 minutes left in the half.

“He’s a different player,” Izzo said of Ward. “He’s focused in 99% of the time. He is off to a good start…Last year he was getting ripped and this year he’s getting coached. It’s just the maturity of him. I’m proud of what he’s done, ‘cause he’s done it the old-fashioned way…I guess I’ve beaten around the bush because I’ve learned not to give certain guys too much credit, but I do have to give him credit because I’m proud of what he’s done and how he’s done it.”

The Spartans struggled to stop Iowa’s offense early. The Hawkeyes shot 40.7 percent while MSU shot 48.6 percent at the end of the first half.

The sequence that flipped the game started with a flashy dunk from Spartan freshman Aaron Henry. Then, a long three-point pull-up shot from Winston helped MSU take charge of the game at 33-26 with just four minutes left in the half.

“It was huge,” Henry said. “It’s a huge gift for us when you do that on offense and getting back on defense, like the other team is perplexed by that or stunned by that. It’s only two points but it’s a huge way for us to get energy.”

The Hawkeyes could not keep up with the Spartan offense as the half dwindled down. MSU shared the ball well, dishing out 15 assists on its 16 made baskets, compared to Iowa’s six dimes. Due to the Spartans’ energetic and unselfish ball movement, they sealed the first half in the lead 43-33.

Ward led the Spartans in scoring with 15 points, going 6-for-6 in the paint. Kenny Goins led the boards for MSU with nine in the first half. Although Winston has been a consistent leading scorer so far this season, the variety in offensive threats for the Spartans gave them the edge they needed to control the game, even without their point guard hitting many shots.

The second half started with a roar from the Izzone after guard Joshua Langford sealed his eighth point for the night with an electric three-pointer.

Iowa scored three points in the first five minutes of the second half, while the Spartans stayed active with 13 points in just five minutes. That gave the Spartans an enormous window to grasp an intimidating lead at 56-36.

“We like to move the ball,” Xavier Tillman said. “No one is selfish on the team…We shoot a lot of shots, we like to get it moving a lot and give everybody a chance to get a look. We just did a good overall job of pressing up on ball screens and being on the weak side.”

Ward collected his fourth foul with 13 minutes left on the clock. For a team with a shallow bench, this could’ve been a problem, but with MSU’s deep array of solid basketball players like Tillman, Kenny Goins and Gabe Brown, Izzo remained confident in their ability to win.

Goins led the boards with 14 rebounds, as well as achieving a new career-high of 19 points.

“I think it’s just an accumulation of five years being here,” Goins said. “You start to slow the game down. You start to become more of a veteran player… I’ve gotten a lot of confidence from my coach and trust in my team. With all that support, it’s kind of hard not to be able to play as confidently as I seem to play now.”

Tillman also broke his career high with 14 points for MSU.

“I’ve been sold on my role being a rebounder,” said Tillman. “So trying to get rebounds is something I’m always trying to do.”

Not only were the Spartans shooting extremely well with 55.6 percent in the second half, but they caused all kinds of problems for the Hawkeyes. They struggled to get the ball into the hole, shooting just 27 percent in the half.

The speed and determination that bled through the Spartan team was too much for the Hawkeyes. Unable to find a way back to the top, Iowa succumbed to MSU’s talent, 90-68.

Ward led the game in scoring while he reached his new career high of 26 points, shooting 10-for-10.

“Career-highs come and go,” Ward said. “We just have to keep on pushing forward and get a lot of wins in the Big Ten.”

Langford tied his career high of assists at five, while also putting up 14 points for the Spartans.

Looking ahead, Michigan State will travel south to face Florida Saturday. The game tips off at 12 p.m. ET.

“This has been a very difficult 11 days for us,” Izzo said. “We’re going to get a much needed break tomorrow and then try to get a few practices in…I’ve learned that my team can prepare without going through the grind of a practice; this meaning a lot of walk throughs, film sessions and hopefully that will help us later on in the year.”