MSU busts Palestra 'ghosts' in rout of Penn State

Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

Washington — It had been a full two months since Michigan State last saw Penn State, and that loss at The Palestra in Philadelphia back in early January still stung the Spartans on Thursday afternoon.

That’s when the teams took the court at the Verizon Center for the rematch in the Big Ten tournament, and Michigan State was determined to show it was a far different team than then one that lost early in conference play.

And just minutes in, it was clear the Spartans were, indeed, a different team, cruising to a 78-51 victory that advances them into the quarterfinals where they will face fourth-seeded Minnesota at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

“I felt like we played one of our better games, if you looked at it in all aspects,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I thought defensively we were very good. Offensively I thought we executed well. We shot well the first half.

“The ghosts of Palestra really helped them (in the first game). Great playing there. Love the venue. I didn't love the outcome. I think we've gotten better and smarter. I said in the last 10 games our team is much, much better. Didn't always show up with four of those losses. I stuck to what I said. We're not great yet. We still have our moments when we do some things, but we're making some progress.”

BOX SCORE: MICHIGAN STATE 78, PENN STATE 51

It was another performance for Michigan State (19-13) that was led by the freshmen as Miles Bridges and Nick Ward each had 15 points and nine rebounds. Joshua Langford chipped in 13 points, including nine in the first half.

“We got off to a fast start defensively and that really got us going,” Bridges said. “Josh came out strong and Nick got us a lot of buckets early, but it really started on the defensive end.”

As Michigan State was busy building its first-half lead thanks to runs of 15-3 and 12-0 at different points, it was busy holding Penn State to 24.2 percent shooting in the first half and just 29.1 for the game.

Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens scored 16 each for Penn State (15-18), but none of the points came easy for the Nittany Lions.

“Give them credit. They played hard, great defense. I still thought we had some good looks, just didn't go down for us,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said, adding praise for Bridges and Ward. “I would say they played much harder than the first time around. They've grown up a lot. Coach Izzo definitely has his mark on those two, for sure. They're competitive. They were talking way more than they did the first time. Give them credit.  They have really good leaders in Tum Tum (Nairn) and (Alvin) Ellis. You can hear those guys talking out there, motivating the freshmen to keep competing. That was the big difference.”

After the early 15-3 run gave Michigan State an 18-8 lead, Penn State chipped away and cut the deficit to 20-13. But Michigan State answered by scoring the next 12 points and opening a 30-13 lead thanks to 3-pointer from Langford and Matt McQuaid. Another triple from Cassius Winston put Michigan State up 18 before Penn State started showing some life.

The Nittany Lions started attacking the basket and got to the line, going 9-for-10 and cutting the Spartans lead to 36-27 with 3:19 to play. However, after a timeout, Michigan State scored the final nine points of the half to take a 45-27 lead into the locker room.

“We wanted to take the fight to them,” Bridges said. “We didn’t want to give in and give them any room to breathe. That’s what we did. That was Coach’s plan and that’s what we did.”

The Spartans continued to roll in the second half, even shaking off a drought that lasted more than three minutes, scoring nine straight after Penn State had cut the lead to 18 to push its advantage to 69-42 with 8:49 to play on a Bridges 3-pointer that ended any suspense as the subs came in the final minutes.

“We feel great,” Langford said. “We’re a better team by a significant amount and we just wanted to show that. I feel like they were being nonchalant about playing us and we wanted to go out there and make a statement.”

matt.charboneau@detroitnews.com

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