Boston — Michigan State kept its record unblemished on Saturday, and in the process matched the best start in school history.
However, this one wasn’t pretty and polished. In fact, it took a simple dive to the floor for a loose ball from a player known more for scoring to spark the win.
The Spartans improved to 12-0 on the season with a 78-58 victory over Northeastern at a sold-out Matthews Arena and equaled the mark of the 2000-01 team that also started with 12 straight victories. They’ll have a chance to establish a new record when they play Oakland on Tuesday at The Palace.
But early on, it was Northeastern that had the energy. The home crowd was buzzing as No. 1 team in the country was taking the home team’s best shot, even trailing 14-5 on the glass, something that almost never happens for Michigan State.
“Northeastern buried us the first 10 minutes of that game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
The Huskies built a 15-10 lead, but Michigan State started to chip away with a 7-0 run, and in the midst of that stretch, it was Bryn Forbes that slid across the floor near midcourt and forced Northeastern turnover.
As the players went to the bench on the stoppage, a fired-up Izzo shoved Forbes in the chest and yelled, ‘Way to go.’
“He loves diving on the floor,” Forbes said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s something about diving on the floor. He was just excited, that’s what gets him excited. Hustle plays, energy plays, that’s what he likes.”
It was exactly what the Spartans needed as it came during a 17-4 run that helped them take a 34-25 lead at the break.
“I thought that changed our whole game,” Izzo said. “I’m impressed with him and don’t even know what he scored. But he’s doing more things and we needed someone to light a match.”
Forbes has tended to spark most games with his shooting, and when he transferred from Cleveland State last season, Izzo was constantly pushing Forbes to play tougher.
That led to an off-season transformation. Forbes is stronger, physically, but he’s been more of an all-around player this season.
“Bryn's been called every name in the book,” senior Matt Costello said. “Just like 'What are you doing, what are you doing? You need to toughen up.’ This year he's taken it to heart, gotten bigger, stronger, has a different mindset.”
Forbes scored 12 for the game while Denzel Valentine scored 17 points and had six assists. Lourawls Nairn Jr. chipped in 11 points as 12 players scored for the Spartans. Zach Stahl scored 18 for Northeastern (7-4) while David Walker scored 13 and Quincy Ford added 10 points.
“Our guys were very excited before the game and the effort was there,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “The execution was lacking at times, but that’s why they’re the No. 1 team in the country. They force you into tough situations. They’re a physical bunch with tremendous depth and that played a toll during the game. They wore us down a little bit because we’re a better shooting team than that. Their pace of play and physicality forces you into a different type of game and we fell into that trap today.”
A back-and-forth start to the second half gave way to Michigan State taking control and pushing its lead to 50-32 after a 12-0 run was capped by a Matt Costello dunk on the break. But Northeastern slowly chipped away, hitting six straight free throws at one point to cut the margin to 12, despite a 3-pointer late in the shot clock from Valentine.
However, Forbes hit a three from the corner with 6:37 to play to extend Michigan State’s lead to 64-47 and the Huskies never challenged again.
“It was great to play in front of a raucous crowd,” Izzo said. “I think your players got to learn how to do that and so I guess we did something that most won’t do, we went on the road and played a quality team and found a way to win and I’m just pleased with that.”
Now the Spartans look to stand alone. A victory on Tuesday against Oakland would improve Michigan State to 13-0, the best start in school history.
“We’re excited about it,” Forbes said. “It’s a big milestone to hit, the best start in school history. I don’t think we’re close to stopping, we don’t want to be close to stopping. I think we’ve got bigger goals in mind.”