Spartans end losing streak with blowout of Minnesota

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EAST LANSING, Mich.– Coming fresh off a three-game losing streak, No. 9 Michigan State buckled down against Minnesota and pulled away with a win, 79-55.

“Hopefully we will keep rolling,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. “We had a bump in the road. It was a big bump, some bizarre things: shooting the way we did from the line, turning it over more than a bakery. We didn’t do what Michigan State does. We didn’t defend. We didn’t rebound and we didn’t run. And anytime you lose your identity, you lose a lot.”

The Spartans are now 19-5 overall and 10-3 in the Big Ten. The last time the Gophers took on the Spartans, then-freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. scored a career-high 27 points helping MSU seal a win 87-57. This year Michigan State had to rely on its experienced players to overtake the Gophers.

Despite the news that Joshua Langford is out for 4-7 months, the Spartans proved their mental toughness Saturday by doing the little things right.

It started with Matt McQuaid. McQuaid averaged just 8.3 points per game this season, came out strong against Minnesota collecting eight points in the first six minutes of the game.

McQuaid’s scoring became noticeably contagious as Nick Ward took control in the key, scoring 10 points in the first half. Ward and McQuaid led the Spartans in scoring with a combined 20 points at the end of the first half.

“[I’m] trying to take some pressure off Cassius,” McQuaid said. “We got it into Nick and he kicked it out. He was a beast down there. He was getting assists. I thought he did a great job.

McQuaid ended the game with 18 points and a career-high of eight assists, while Ward led the team with 22 points and nine rebounds.

After collecting two first-half fouls Cassius Winston rested on the bench for the last 13 minutes of the first half. In his absence, freshmen Aaron Henry, Thomas Kithier, and Foster Loyer took advantage of their time on the court.

“I did not know what I was doing,” Winston said. “It was good to just watch. I like seeing [Loyer] be successful, that was big…seeing Matt play like that. We’ve got a really good team and really good players, you don’t get a chance to really sit back and watch like that, at least I don’t.”

Kithier scored a career-high of eight points. Henry grabbed three assists and three rebounds as well.

“Development has been huge,” Kithier said. ‘’You have to have grit. You’ve got to want to hit everybody you see and go into that lane and just box people out.”

Spartans held a solid lead at the end of the half, 35-24. The Gophers shot 31 percent in the first half, while MSU shot a solid 46 percent.

The break proved to be helpful because Winston came out in the second half with lots of energy. Ward and Winston could not be stopped as the half heated up.

After a smooth assist from Winston, Ward exploded to the rim for a dunk in the first minute of the half. The team absorbed the electricity form Ward and Winston and provided the Spartans fans with the kind of energy they’d been lacking in the past three games.

“Your best players can’t just play good and sometimes they can’t just play great,” Izzo said. “When you lose a guy like Josh…they’ve got to play at a level maybe they’ve been at. I think both of them [Winston and Ward] understand that. It’s a grind and they grinded this week.”

After McQuaid’s third 3-point shot fell in, and Kyle Ahrens’ massive dunk, the Spartans’ lead bloomed to 61-35 with 12:02 left in the game. The Gophers were unable to contain the Spartan offense. MSU ended up shooting 52 percent overall, making 40 percent of their 3-point shots.

After averaging 40 minutes in the last three games, Winston was unable to score in the first half but ended the game with 11 points and nine assists, playing just 24 minutes.

“We definitely got out of the funk,” McQuaid said. “We could say that today, but we have to bring it and build off practice tomorrow and the next day. We just have to keep building and get better.”

The Spartans have just seven games left in their season before tournament play in March. Michigan State heads to Wisconsin Tuesday night, tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.