College Park, Md. — Everything at the Xfinity Center on the Maryland campus Sunday afternoon screamed of a big-time college basketball game.
The building was packed, the crowd was full of energy and the national television cameras were in place for No. 6 Michigan State to take on Maryland.
For the Spartans, however, it’s been a week far from typical. Their president and athletic director stepped down this week in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal and on Friday, coach Tom Izzo — as well as football coach Mark Dantonio and his program — were at the center of an ESPN report about their failures in dealing with past issues of sexual assault allegations against players.
So, the fact the Spartans struggled through the first 20 minutes didn’t come as a huge surprise. The way Michigan State responded in the second 20 minutes — that turned out the be the biggest story on the court as Michigan State erased a 13-point halftime deficit to rally for a 74-68 victory over Maryland in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,950.
“I’m very proud of the comeback of my team. It was a tough game,” Izzo said. “I thought they played awfully well the first half. I did not think we played as well in stretches. But the halftime was interesting. I saw some guys really come together.
“We all know it’s been a time when there’s been a lot of distractions. I think sometimes guys just have to focus in on their job and then deal with the other stuff after, and that’s what they did.”
Joshua Langford scored 19 to lead Michigan State (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) while Cassius Winston added 13 points and five assists and Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 12 points and blocked four shots. Nick Ward only scored seven points but had 12 rebounds, including two on one offensive possession in the final minutes. Miles Bridges scored just 11 points but was just 3-for-13 shooting.
“Miles had a rough day but he had a big block late, had a couple big plays, he had a big free throw,” Izzo said. “I was proud of the way my team played, guys. I really, really was. I was disappointed in the first half, I was disappointed in the end of the first half but I was proud of them.”
Michigan State players talk about team's performance and coach Tim Izzo following Sunday's 74-68 win. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Kevin Huerter scored 17 for Maryland (15-8, 4-6) while Anthony Cowan and Darryl Morsell scored 12 each and Jared Nickens added 10 for the Terrapins.
The arena was hopping early, and Michigan State didn’t handle it well as Maryland scored the first eight points of the game and forced the Spartans to take a timeout.
Michigan State managed to pull within two at 13-11 and again at 18-16, but the Terrapins started to take control from there. A 10-2 run gave Maryland its biggest lead at 28-18 and less than two minutes later that lead grew to 32-20. A 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half by Nickens gave the Terps a 37-24 advantage headed to the locker room.
“We were terrific in the first half,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said, “on both ends of the floor.”
Things shifted quickly in the second half, however, as Michigan State opened on a 20-4 run, erasing a 13-point halftime deficit to take a 44-41 lead with 14:28 to play after Gavin Schilling dunked off a feed in the paint from Winston.
“They’re a heck of a team,” Turgeon said. “They came out and hit us between the eyes.”
After Schilling’s dunk, Maryland scored the next five to go back ahead, but the Spartans got a Bridges jumper and a jump-hook from Ward to retake the lead for good, pushing it to 54-48 after Winston hit a pair of free throws.
The lead grew to 61-53 after a Winston triple but Maryland chipped away, pulling to within 63-61 with 1:44 to play. But the Spartans went 11-for-12 from the free-throw line down the stretch to put the game away.
“It was very big for us, especially with the way we came into halftime down 13,” Langford said. “They were making tough shots and for us to come together as a team and fight together. Everything wasn’t perfect but we showed big signs of maturity tonight, just coming together and fighting for each other and we got a big win.”
Michigan State had seven blocks, giving them 184 for the season. It’s the most a Spartans team has had in one season, surpassing the 177 blocks in 2015-16.
The Spartans entered the game No. 1 in the nation with eight blocks per game.
… Michigan State outrebounded Maryland, 46-29, and had 19 offensive rebounds, the most in a game this season. The Spartans entered the game No. 1 in the nation in rebounding margin at +11.9.