Without Ahrens or Langford, Spartans rely on Nick Ward and freshmen to beat Penn State

The No. 6 Michigan State Spartans (15-2, 6-0 Big Ten) came into the Bryce Jordan Center down a couple of men to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-10, 0-6 Big Ten).

The Spartans were once again without junior guard Joshua Langford, who has been out with an ankle injury for the past four games. They also missed redshirt junior guard/forward Kyle Ahrens who was out with a back injury.

With two crucial players out for the Spartans, the play of Nick Ward was more important than ever. Ward was great in the game, going for 16 points and 11 rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting. His first-half performance was big in helping Michigan State get out to an early lead. The junior forward had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Ward was everywhere, finishing in the post, showing off his free throw line jumpshot and thriving in transition.

Along with Ward, head coach Tom Izzo had to lean on his freshmen more in this one. Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown both saw a bump in their minutes with the guards out, and they stepped up. Henry was a big part of a solid first half for the Spartans, he had six points and went 3-of-6 from the field while Brown chipped in with three points and three rebounds.

Freshman guard Foster Loyer also saw some quality minutes as junior guard Cassius Winston dealt with foul trouble in the first half. Loyer chipped in with seven points, but it was his defense that was terrific, drawing two charges on the Nittany Lions. The freshman was a big part of the Spartan defense and aided in slowing down Penn State.

After coming out strong early, Penn State struggled mightily from the field for the rest of the first. A four-minute scoring drought led to Michigan State going on a 10-0 run and stretching the lead to 10 points, 8 minutes into the half.

A large part of the Nittany Lions’ struggles was that they settled for 3-point jumpers. As a team they went 3-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half, and 5-of-22 on the game. Penn State also lost their leading scorer, junior forward Lamar Stevens, to foul trouble early.

The offensive showcase of Ward and the struggles for Penn State all led to a 16-point lead for Michigan State heading into halftime, 40-24.

The beginning of the second half saw both teams switch roles from the first half. It all began with Ward picking up two early fouls on top of the one he already had that forced him to sit for a large part of the second.

With Ward out, the Spartans’ offense struggled a bit and slipped back into its old turnover habits. By the 16 minute mark of the second half Michigan State totaled four turnovers and would end up totaling 11 in the half and 17 in the game. The turnovers allowed Penn State to stay in the game and eventually cut the lead to 10, 43-33 with 14:25 left to play.

The Nittany Lions were also buoyed by a strong second half from star Lamar Stevens who came away with 16 of his game high 20 in the half.

The Spartans eventually got it going behind the hot shooting of Matt McQuaid, who finished with a season-high 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range. The senior guard capped a 9-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers, stretching the lead back to 16.

From there the Spartans coasted to victory as Cassius Winston got going. He finished with 11 points, six assists and four steals, but also had seven turnovers in the game after struggling in the first half.

With the win the Spartans improve to 15-2 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten, keeping the streak of now 18 Big Ten victories alive. Michigan State will now travel to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers, tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.