Spartans pleased with energy, focus in victory
East Lansing — If Tom Izzo was looking for a fast start from his team after the holiday break, he had to be pleased on Friday night.
Michigan State raced out to a big lead in the opening minutes against Cleveland State before winning, 111-61.
Michigan State has now scored 100-plus points in three straight games for the first time since November 2004. The 63 first-half points set a record for Izzo’s tenure.
The Spartans scored the first seven points of the game, forcing a timeout from Cleveland State (3-10) less than a minute and a half into the game.
It was all Michigan State from that point on as it took a 63-25 lead into the half, shooting 74 percent from the field and 69 percent from 3-point range. Michigan State didn’t miss a shot until nearly five minutes into the game and its first missed 3-pointer was 6:30 into the game.
“A lot of the games that we’ve played this year, we started off not too good so we wanted to come in and start off more focused,” Josh Langford said. “I think we achieved a lot of our goals today.”
The Spartans opened the second half with a 22-5 run and finished shooting 65 percent from the floor and 58 percent from 3-point range. The Spartans also held Cleveland State to 33-percent shooting.
Cleveland State coach Dennis Felton didn’t find many weaknesses in the Spartans’ game.
“They have a lot of great pieces,” Felton said. “They have explosive scoring ability and athleticism. Obviously they have skill to shoot the ball well. They’re not an easy team to prepare for because they have a pretty healthy playbook.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt they’re the best team in college basketball.”
The most important improvement on Friday — something that had bothered Izzo heading into the final non-conference games — was the turnover battle.
Michigan State (13-1) finished with 11 turnovers after recording just three in the first half. That was down from the Spartans’ season average of 14.4. Izzo wanted the team to clean up “casual turnovers” before conference play resumes in January, but the sloppy play in the second half tainted the first-half cleanliness.
“We got a little sloppy in the second half,” Izzo said. “(We) gave up some 3s — 11 of them. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Each of Michigan State’s starters scored in double figures, led by Langford who had 23 points. Nick Ward finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds and Miles Bridges had 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“I felt like we had great energy,” Ward said. “That was our emphasis in the locker room, to keep the energy up. I like to rebound, I like to give it my all every time I step on the floor.”
Cleveland State was paced by Bobby Word, who finished with 26 points.
Michigan State will host Savannah State on Sunday afternoon to close out non-conference play.
Bridges, remained consistent when speaking of improvements the Spartans need to make: defending the 3-point line, rebounding and cutting down turnovers.
Like the rest of the team, though, he was pleased with the team’s energy in the win.
“We all stayed focused,” Bridges said. “We came out to play today. That (holiday) break was good for us. We got our mind cleared. We had a lot more energy today."
Although Izzo was tough on his team’s second-half performance, he did take one major positive away from the game.
“Give our fans credit,” Izzo said. “Our guys were jacked. (It was) just an exhilarating night coming off watching that (Holiday Bowl). Our fans were phenomenal tonight.”
Connot Muldowney is a freelance writer.