Piscataway, N.J. — Michigan State spent much of its two extra days of preparation for Thursday's game at Rutgers working on its offense.And as good as that was, it was the staples of the program — rebounding and defense — that paid off most for the Spartans.
Branden Dawson had 17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks while Bryn Forbes scored 18 as Michigan State rolled to a 71-51 victory at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
MSU coach says Spartans getting "back to our roots" in 71-51 victory.
"The bright spot is I thought we got back to our roots," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We defended well, we rebounded well, we fast-broke well. … Now we got Forbes more into the game, which helped. And Branden Dawson has been, no question, a player that's gotten better each and every game."
It was the fifth-double-double this season for Dawson, the Big Ten's top rebounder, and the 18 points from Forbes matched his best as a Spartan. Travis Trice had 10 points and five assists while Matt Costello scored nine and had five rebounds. Denzel Valentine added seven rebounds and three assists while scoring eight points. Lourawls Nairn added a career-high eight points.
"We're starting to do more with him because he is responding," Izzo said of Dawson. "I'd say it's his most complete game, that is a pretty good way to put it. He defended pretty well, he rebounded pretty well, he passed pretty well, he made some shots, he made his free throws."
And, just as Izzo said, the defense and rebounding were outstanding. The Spartans (14-7, 5-3 Big Ten) had 43 rebounds to just 28 for the Scarlet Knights and Rutgers shot just 29.1 percent from the field. Kadeem Mack managed 17 points for Rutgers but Myles Mack was held to just seven, coming into the game averaging 14.4.
"We gave Mack and Jack a lot of attention and when he came off some of those ball screens we tried to be there with our bigs," Izzo said. "But I thought Trice did a good job. I thought Tum did a pretty good job. I didn't see Mack as aggressive as I've seen him on film either."
And with one of the Scarlet Knights' top scorers neutralized, the Spartans were off and running.
A 20-2 run to open the second half was the best stretch of the night.
"The second half to start out on a 20-2 run was very big for us," Izzo said. "Hopefully we can build on this now. We've just got to get back to our roots and I don't think we had done that for a while."
Even with a two-day delay from the winter storm that postponed the game originally scheduled for Tuesday, Michigan State looked no worse for wear.
Dawson got things going early for Michigan State, scoring 12 first-half points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field and an even more-impressive 4-for-4 from the free-throw line despite entering the game shooting 56.5 percent.
The Spartans took their biggest lead of the opening half at 34-19 after Trice capped a 10- run with a lob to Costello, a running layup in transition and a 3-pointer. That came after Trice started the game 0-for-5 from the field, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
The second half was more of the same as Dawson sparked the decisive run with a running layup that was turned into a three-point play with a free throw, a nice dish to Costello on the fast break and a near steal that led to a Forbes 3-pointer and a 52-36 lead for the Spartans with more than 16 minutes to play.
Dawson followed with a lob dunk before Trice scored an easy layup and Costello made a tough jump-hook. Lourawls Nairn then closed the run with two straight layups before Rutgers (10-12, 2-7) ended an almost 10-minute field-goal drought on a bucket by Jack.
"I'd say that was one of my more complete performances," Dawson said. "I played with energy, was talking, doing the little things to help my team get a win tonight. Getting off to a great start was big. That has been where we have been hurting at, getting off to a good start. Against Nebraska we didn't start well and tried to come back. This game we got up 15 and let them come back. We have to get better at being consistent."