Indianapolis – Taking on Kansas in the Champions Classic is right in Matt McQuaid’s wheelhouse.
It was the second game of McQuaid’s Michigan State career when the Spartans took on the Jayhawks in the annual event in 2015. And in a tight game, it was the freshman shooting guard who came up with two huge plays in a matter of seconds.
With the Spartans leading by one and the clock ticking under a minute, forward Matt Costello kicked the ball out to McQuaid, who buried a 3-pointer with 53 seconds to play, giving Michigan State a three-point lead.
He wasn’t done, though, as Kansas’ Frank Mason drove the lane seconds later and McQuaid swatted the ball out of bounds, helping secure Michigan State’s 79-73 victory at the United Center in Chicago.
Now, as McQuaid begins his senior season, he gets another chance to shine in the Champions Classic against Kansas, this time at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“This is why you come to Michigan State, for games like this,” McQuaid said. “You work your whole life to be in this situation.”
The situation he and No. 10 Michigan State found themselves in Tuesday night was facing the No. 1 team in the nation. It’s the third time the Spartans have faced the top-ranked team in the Champions Classic. They were ranked No. 2 in each of the previous meetings, beating Kentucky in 2014 and falling to Duke in 2017.
What the Spartans get out of McQuaid against Kansas and throughout the season will say a lot about how good they really are as they look to defend their Big Ten title.
“For us to be great, we’ve got to get more out of Josh (Langford) and McQuaid,” coach Tom Izzo said.
McQuaid scored nine points in that win over Kansas his freshman season. Since then, he’s shown flashes of breaking out but hasn’t done so consistently.
He understands he has a bigger role now as a senior and what is expected of him. He’ll need to make shots, as well as help out Cassius Winston at the point. If he excels there, the Spartans could get things rolling early in non-conference play.
Taking on the top-ranked team in the nation is the perfect first test.
“With them being No. 1 and us 10, there’s definitely a chip on the shoulder,” McQuaid said. “We’ll come in confident, play hard and kind of send a message that we’re here, we’re a tough team and we’re ready to play and get the season going.”
McQuaid isn’t the only one the Spartans are hoping for big things out of this season.
While big man Nick Ward is primed for another big season, Michigan State will also need a big year from junior point guard Cassius Winston, who Izzo said could be playing more than 30 minutes a game this season after leading the Big Ten in 3-point shooting as a sophomore.
“I’ve said all along Cassius will be a big part of this whole year,” Izzo said. “He has to run the show. (Freshman) Foster (Loyer) may play a little bit but this is Cassius’ turn and we need him to play more minutes. But as he said to me the other day, ‘Before you could coast some or take some time off because you knew somebody was coming in.’ Now, he will not be able to coast because nobody is coming in sometimes.
“It will be interesting to see how he handles that. He’s done a good job and I’m anxious to see if plays more minutes, too, because I’d like to use him.”
Michigan State entered Tuesdays’ game 3-4 all-time in the Champions Classic.
... The Spartans have beaten Kansas each of the two previous times they’ve faced each other in the event. In 2015, Denzel Valentine recorded a triple-double with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists as No. 13 MSU defeated No. 4 Kansas, 79-73. In 2012, MSU beat Kansas, 67-64, in Atlanta behind 19 points from Keith Appling and 18 from Gary Harris.
… Michigan State leads the all-time series against Kansas, 7-6. The last meeting between the teams was a 92-70 Kansas win in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.