Matt McQuaid, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Conner George talk about Michigan State's win over DePaul. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Portland, Ore. — Michigan State was without Miles Bridges on Thursday night, so it needed someone to pick up the slack.
Enter junior Matt McQuaid, who entered the starting lineup for the first time this season and responded with a career-high 20 points to help No. 4 Michigan State overcome a sloppy first half to pull away and beat DePaul, 73-51, in the first round the of the PK80 Invitational at the Moda Center.
McQuaid was 6-for-8 from 3-point range, the six 3-pointers also a career-best. Three of his long-distance shots helped spark a 14-0, second-half run by the Spartans (3-1) to break open the game midway through the second half. McQuaid got the run started with a 3-pointer before Joshua Langford scored five straight. McQuaid then capped it with two more 3-pointers as DePaul never threatened again.
“Yeah, I’ve just been working a lot, even the last game my shots felt good,” McQuaid said. “My teammates are always giving me confidence and I got great screens and great passes and it really helped. They were going in and hopefully tomorrow I’m going to keep it up.”
Michigan State advances to take on Connecticut at midnight Friday in the Victory Bracket semifinals at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Connecticut defeated Oregon, 71-63, earlier on Thursday. North Carolina and Arkansas will face off in the other semifinal.
Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Spartans while Langford added 10 points and Cassius Winston had 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Former walk-on Conner George provided a spark, as well, grabbing seven rebounds in 16 minutes.
“It sure wasn’t the prettiest game we played, but I had been very impressed with DePaul on film,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. ““Our bigs by committee played very well, Jaren Jackson, of course, the best. But our guards struggled in the first half. I told my team after the game, I said something I never say, I said, ‘Cassius Winston played better defensively than offensively.’ He did a hell of a job, and did a hell of a job offensively in the second half.
“I’m happy with the win because of the circumstances. Give guys some credit. McQuaid stepped up. Our ball-screen defense was as good as we’ve done in the last couple of years and then Conner George played good defense, got every loose ball and didn’t turn the ball over. It was impressive.”
Eli Cain and Max Struz each scored 12 to lead DePaul (1-3) while Tre’Darius McCallum added 11 points for the Blue Demons.
Michigan State was out of sync most of the first half, clearly looking like a team without its best player. The Spartans committed nine turnovers in the opening half that turned into 12 DePaul points. Michigan State also committed 13 fouls as the Blue Demons took advantage by going 11-for-15 from the free-throw line.
Despite the erratic play, the Spartans managed to open a 20-15 lead after a Jackson layup. But DePaul answered with an 11-0 run to go ahead 26-20, the final six points of the surge coming from the free-throw line.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo on his team's win over DePaul. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Michigan State responded with a 9-0 run as Jackson scored four straight followed by five in a from McQuaid to put the Spartans up, 29-26. But after DePaul got a couple free throws and Xavier Tillman scored on a putback, the Blue Demons got a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Cain to tie the score at 31 headed to the locker room.
It took most of that first half for Michigan State to get used to playing without Bridges.
“I’ve just got to adapt to different aspects of the game,” Jackson said. “It’s just a different feel. Losing (Bridges) you lose a lot. You lose his points, you lose his rebounds, you lose his energy even though he is yelling on the bench. You lose different things and you have to bring other aspects of the game to the table and be aggressive.”
Bridges went through warm-ups with the Spartans but did not play. He injured his left ankle on Sunday in a win over Stony Brook. His status for the Connecticut game remains questionable as the Spartans will get Saturday off before finishing the tournament on Sunday.
Izzo said he hopes Bridges will get to play at some point this weekend.