No. 14 Spartans cruise to home victory over Wildcats

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Cassius Winston (Photo: Ian Gilmour / WDBM)

Luca Melloni, General Assignment Reporter

EAST LANSING — After a strong victory against Big Ten rival Minnesota, the Michigan State men’s basketball team put on a clinical performance in Wednesday’s victory against the Northwestern Wildcats at home. Led by Cassius Winston’s 18 points, the Spartans defeated the Wildcats 79-50 to prepare for the second half of the Big Ten season.

With a phenomenal start to the game, the Spartans never looked in doubt to seal a victory. They outscored the Wildcats 16-4 in the opening eight minutes of the game, but the middle of the first half was a little questionable for coach Tom Izzo. There was a 3-4 minute stretch where Northwestern cut the deficit to four points. 

Izzo stated, “We were poor on getting some consistency … We had a great start but a very mediocre middle.”

At halftime, the Spartans were up by 11 points and after some sticky moments in the middle of the first half, the energy from the bench set the tone for MSU to be on the right track.

Foster Loyer created energy off the bench with 12 points, shooting 4-for-6 from deep and contributing four assists. The home crowd loved it and the team surely felt the energy.

Izzo set very high standards for his team and he believed it played well but did not demonstrate its full potential of highlighting its consistency throughout the game.

“It’s hard to be excited about how we played because I don’t think Chris (Collins) thought they played great,” Izzo said.

Northwestern comes off a four-game losing streak and has not won a game since the meeting with Nebraska on Jan. 11. The Wildcats had a display of young players including freshmen Boo Buie and Jared Jones. Coach Collins is not scared to play young players against an experienced team and he believes there are positive notes to take away from this loss.

“Some nights you run into teams like this who are good, old, tough, and they let you know where you need to go,” Collins said.

Izzo praised the development of Northwestern players by saying, “I love the parts and the pieces they have.” 

Izzo compared Buie and Rocket Watts by describing the energy they bring, even if they are very young. 

Sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr. was one of many that surprised fans tonight and impressed his coach with an encouraging stat line of scoring seven points, seven rebounds, and three blocks. 

“He responded and played well within himself … I thought his rebounding was impressive,” Izzo said.

The second half consisted of strong performances by Xavier Tillman and Gabe Brown, who each impressed on the defensive end of the floor. Tillman and Brown combined for four blocks and four steals. 

Kyle Ahrens also made an appearance off the bench and the home fans were excited to see him knock down a 3-pointer. 

“He (Ahrens) always puts his whole body and his life on the line for the team and for him to come back and play the way he did is amazing,” Brown commented.

Kyle Ahrens (Photo: Ian Gilmour / WDBM)

MSU was able to play quickly and swiftly on the fast break, which accounted for most of the Spartans’ points in the second half. The passing and the movement of the ball on display was a vintage Izzo basketball production, and the Izzone rocked the stadium the entire afternoon. 

With almost 13 minutes left to play, the Spartans were comfortably ahead 46-24. This ultimately ended in a downhill battle for MSU in which the momentum never stopped. 

“There are still things out there on the court that we have to fix and for that reason,” Brown said. “We’re never satisfied.”

The Spartans look ahead to their next game at Wisconsin on Saturday and after this performance, they will go in with confidence and hope to execute a clinical match. 

Contact Luca Melloni at mellonis@msu.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @mellonluca.