For the most of the first half Tuesday, it felt like Michigan State wouldn’t miss.
At least, that was the case from 3-point range as the Spartans missed just one of their first 10 attempts during an 87-57 victory at Minnesota. And that miss was a rushed shot from the corner by senior Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, who thought the shot clock was winding down.
By the end of the opening half, No.2 Michigan State was 10-for-12 from 3-point range with Cassius Winston and Jaren Jackson Jr. both going 4-for-4. It was a shooting display the Spartans haven’t had this season.
“No, I didn’t,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said with a chuckle when asked if he expected that sort of shooting performance. “Jaren hit every shot and Cassius hit more than Jaren. Even (Matt) McQuaid hit one in that stretch. That’s not the norm. Some of it was and if I was disappointed in anything it’s when we moved the ball from side to side we got some good shots. When we tried to go one-on-one a little bit we’re just not as good a team. We did that a little against Purdue, so that is some work we need to do.”
Michigan State finished the game 14-for-22 from 3-point range as the first-half performance sparked the offense. Jackson ended 5-for-7 while Winston was 4-for-5. McQuaid hit three triples while Nairn and Miles Bridges scored once each from long distance.
The 14 3-pointers was a couple off the season high of 16 in a win over Maryland, but the 63.6 percent shooting was the best this season for the Spartans.
“That’s huge,” said Winston, who is the top 3-point shooter in the Big Ten at 53.2 percent. “There’s not a lot of times you go into another gym and knock down shots. That’s not how these games go, but we got some good looks and knocked them down and kept rolling from there.”
Winston has been steady most of the season along with McQuaid, but Jackson has been a bit more erratic. The win Tuesday was the first time in five games that he made more than one triple, however, it was the second time this season he’s made five in a game.
“That happens when I practice it a lot during the week,” Jackson said. “In warm-ups you can tell right before the game if you’re gonna shoot well. Usually if I shoot well (in warm-ups) I get more confidence, build more confidence and then I shoot more.”
While Izzo said shooting that well from 3-point range hasn’t seemed like the norm for Michigan State this season, the numbers show the Spartans have been pretty good. After Tuesday’s victory, they’re shooting 42.1 percent for the season, a number that would tie them for the third-best season in program history.
As it stands, Michigan State (25-3, 13-2 Big Ten) is second in the conference in 3-point shooting behind Purdue (42.4) and is on pace to finish in the top five in most threes made in a season in program history.
Through 28 games, no Michigan State team has had a better record than this season’s. The victory over Minnesota gave MSU a 25-3 overall mark, surpassing the 2000-01 team that started 24-3 and before losing to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament.
“That does mean something to me because it gives this team a chance to have some identity of their own,” Izzo said. “There’s always talk about the championship teams, this team, that team. Sometimes, unless you win a championship you’re not worthy of things. We’re setting some marks in our own way and I think that is pretty cool. That is a hell of a start. I’ve had some good teams that never got close to that.”
While bigger goals remain for Michigan State — namely a Big Ten championship and a national title — surpassing the 2000-01 team still has meaning.
“That’s great,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “It’s just another reason why I came back. It’s another milestone for our seniors.”
The 87-57 victory Tuesday was the eighth time this season Michigan State has held an opponent below 60 points, the fourth against a Big Ten opponent.
… Among the nation's leaders in field-goal percentage defense, MSU held Minnesota to 32.2 percent shooting, the 18th opponent to shoot below 40 percent.
… Michigan State grabbed 49 rebounds and held a plus-26 advantage on the boards. It was the 15th game this season with at least 40 rebounds.