EAST LANSING, Mich. — After two weeks of discouraging basketball from Michigan State, dropping two of its last three games prior to tonight, the No. 9 ranked team got back to its Big Ten / National Title contending form, whomping Indiana 85-57.
“We’re definitely not as bad as some have made us out to be,” head coach Tom Izzo told his team following the game. “But we’re not as good as some will make us out to be. We’re just going to keep grinding.”
MSU used an 18-0 run over a 5:22 stretch in the first half to blow the game wide open and pull away from the Hoosiers, who at one point went nearly four and a half minutes without a bucket. Robert Johnson, whose been averaging 18.3 points during their three-game winning streak, led IU with 21 points, going 7-of-13 from the floor, and knocked down four big 3-pointers. Josh Newkirk pitched in 14 points on a rough 5-for-17 night, going 4-of-12 from downtown.
“We really played a good first half. I thought our energy was a lot better,” Izzo said. “I was not pleased with the second half. I love Indiana’s two guards and I thought Johnson gave us some trouble early in the second half.”
Turnovers have been a point of emphasis for the Spartans, who’ve turned it over 47 times in their three losses this season. MSU gave it away 13 times tonight, translating to ten points for the Hoosiers. Defensively, the Spartans were much more engaged tonight, forcing nine IU giveaways and turning those into 14 points of their own. Indiana was held to just 34% shooting for the game on a 20-of-59 night from the floor.
“Cassius was a lot more solid defensively tonight,” Izzo said. “If we defend and can push it, then that’s when Cassius Winston is at his best.”
Nick Ward turning the ball over while facing double-teams is definitely an area Izzo wants his sophomore big to improve upon. Mid-way in the first half, Ward was doubled late in the possession and found Winston in the far corner who buried a deep triple. Izzo thought that sequence was the highlight of the game.
“We had worked on that for three straight days, what we wanted to do when we’re faced with those looks,” Izzo said. “It was the execution of what we wanted to get done that was even more impressive.”
Indiana was noticeably outsized in this game and deeply missed its 6-foot-10 sophomore center De’Ron Davis, who underwent season-ending surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his right leg. The Spartans dominated the Hoosiers underneath, scoring 38 points in the paint to IU’s 18 and pounded them on the glass 45-27.
“The main thing for us tonight was our rebounding,” Miles Bridges said. “We really were able to get out on the break because of it.”
The second half was much of the same for Izzo’s squad, with the lead swelling to 28 at the final buzzer. Bridges led MSU with 22 points on the night and knocked down four 3-pointers. His classmate Nick Ward had another efficient outing, scoring 18 points and pulling down 13 rebounds, notching his sixth double-double on the year.
“I think I did good against the double-team tonight,” Ward said following his performance. “I worked on playing against the double every day in practice, so I was more than prepared for it.”
Facing some deserved criticism for its play over the last two weeks, MSU bounced back with great resolve and closed its three-game homestand with an encouraging, convincing win that reminded many of those same doubters just how tough it can be to beat this team.
This team came out re-energized, whether it was their body language, the way they eagerly looked to push the ball on the break or the way they emphasized really digging in each time down the floor. This was a team that looked like they felt a bit discredited and looked down upon, and came out tonight wanting to show those doubters how much that has fueled them.
“I don’t like what went on last week,” Izzo said of people casting doubt on his team after two losses. “I don’t like how people jumped in and out of the bandwagon. Whoever jumps out, you’re gonna miss out. Whoever jumps in and stays in, I think you’re in for a pretty good ride.”
With the win, Michigan State improves to 17-3 on the year and now sits at third in the Big Ten, just behind Ohio State and Purdue. The Spartans hit the road on Monday when they travel to Champaign to face an Illinois bunch still searching for its first conference win.