‘We earned it’: MSU wins, makes case for No. 1

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – By the time the New Year is less than a day old, Michigan State likely will be the No. 1 team in the nation.

As the final day of 2017 wound down, the Spartans were busy proving why they’re among the best in the country, cruising past Savannah State, 108-52, at Breslin Center in the final non-conference game Sunday. Six MSU players scored in double-figures and all five starters did so for the fifth straight game.

It was also the fourth consecutive game the Spartans have scored 100 points, the longest stretch in program history, while Miles Bridges had a career-best 21 rebounds and Cassius Winston established a career high with 13 assists. The Spartans also had 35 team assists, one off the program record set in 2000 against Michigan.

“I’m a big fan of personal goals, team goals and program goals,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I think kids need to be motivated for something all the time.

“As I always say, it’s good to leave your footprint in the sand. … That was one of our goals. I thought we could. I thought we’d have an opportunity. I think anytime you do something to leave your mark at a place, as long as it’s not turnovers or opponents scoring, if it’s assists, scoring points, rebounding, I think those are things that they’ll remember some day when I’m gone.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 108, Savannah State 52

It didn’t come immediately for No. 2 Michigan State (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten), which turned the ball over five times in the first four minutes and gave it away 12 times in the first half. But slowly things started to turn late in the first half, and in the second half, the Spartans outscored Savannah State, 57-14, and closed the game on a 32-0 run.

Nick Ward scored 21 and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Michigan State. Ward was 9-for-9 shooting and is now 32-for-34 in his last four games. Bridges scored 19 points to go with his 21 rebounds. It was the most rebounds in a game since Greg Kelser grabbed 27 in 1976 against Wisconsin. His 19 defensive rebounds established a program record, eclipsing the 17 of Antonio Smith in 1997.

Winston added 16 points while Matt McQuaid added 14 points, Joshua Langford scored 11 and Jaren Jackson Jr. had 10 points.

“Cassius went from rags to riches in the second half,” Izzo said. “Miles defended as good as he has and finally got in and rebounded like he’s capable of rebounding.

“It was exciting to see Cassius get 13 assists, a career-high. It was exciting to see Miles get 21 rebounds, that was a career-high. I’m disappointed Nick didn’t miss a shot so I have nothing to get on him about. But he got 10 rebounds and 21 points and I thought he played very well.”

Dexter McClanahan scored 14 points for Savannah State (3-12).

“In the second half, they wore us down and that’s the difference between a Power Five and Savannah State,” Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax said. “It’s hard for them to get up for Savannah State and that was probably the only advantage we had.

“We’re not supposed to be in this jungle. They got different animals in this jungle.”

With the new rankings set to come out Monday, the Spartans now look forward to what likely means a jump to the top after No. 1 Villanova and No. 3 Arizona State both lost this week.

As Big Ten play resumes this week with a home game Thursday against Maryland and a trip to Ohio State on Sunday, the Spartans are relishing the chance to be No. 1.

“Most definitely, that’s the spot we want to be at – No. 1,” Winston said. “Now it’s more motivation every night to go out and prove we’re No. 1 and that we deserve that spot, we earned it and that’s the way we have to go out and play.”

But it doesn’t change the ultimate goal, Bridges said.

“It really doesn’t matter until we’re the No. 1 team in the end,” he said. “It puts a big bullseye on our back and it’s gonna be a challenge for us throughout the year. But if we’re able to take it we can go a long way.”