Matt Charboneau breaks down Michigan State's victory over Green Bay. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — The final score on Sunday said Michigan State had a heck of a game. The box score said the same when going from player to player.
But after No. 9 Michigan State had finished knocking off Green Bay, 104-83, at the Breslin Center, there was a feeling of not quite playing the way the Spartans expected. Whether it was the slow start or the defensive lulls late in the game, it wasn’t the complete effort Michigan State expected after not playing in more than a week.
“We are gonna learn about our team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We learned about our team when we played good teams. We learned about them in a comeback. We learned about them in a bad loss at Louisville when we didn’t take care of our business. I guess you can say we’re constantly learning about them and constantly trying to show them that you’ve got to play the game, not the team and not the score. You play the game on a consistent level night-in and night-out.
“Tonight, we played the game halfway and the next game we’ll shoot for a full game and hopefully fall closer. We weren’t bad. Not mad at anybody. But we didn’t do the things to obtain the goals we have on our goal chart, so we’re gonna hold our guys accountable to that.”
The feeling was echoed by the players.
For a team that knows it has come up short of its expectations the last two seasons, finishing strong has been an emphasis from before the season began. And while a 20-point win might seem like a pretty good showing, the Spartans (9-2, 2-0 Big Ten) are expecting more.
They’ll get their next chance on Friday when they host Oakland before closing out nonconference play on Dec. 29 against Northern Illinois.
“Everybody has to hold each other accountable,” junior guard Joshua Langford said. “We’ve got to push each other and take advantage of these days we have between these games and try not to already be at home because we know we’re about to be on Christmas break. We still understand we have four days of practice left and a game coming up and we have to be here and be present and take advantage of those because once the Big Ten starts, we hit the ground rolling. There’s no time to focus on us. It’s preparing for other teams and getting ready for other teams.”
When the Spartans were playing their best on Sunday they looked like a tough team to beat. A 27-4 run during the first half helped break open the game.
Nick Ward scored a career-high 28 points on 12-for-13 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking four shots for the Spartans. Ward was one of six players in double figures as Cassius Winston scored 16, Langford added 13 and Matt McQuaid chipped in 12. Winston added 12 assists for Michigan State.
Freshmen Gabe Brown and Foster Loyer also had career nights with Brown getting 11 points and Loyer 10, both career bests for the first-year players.
Michigan State's Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward on the win over Green Bay. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
“After those first five minutes we played some of our best basketball,” Izzo said. “We were running, and I think running game was impressive. Nick did a better job. Cassius was really good early. In the second half Nick played OK for parts and Josh played better.”
Sandy Cohen III scored 22 to lead Green Bay (6-6) while JayQuan McCloud added 17 points. Kameron Hankerson chipped in 11 points for the Phoenix and Manny Patterson scored 10.
The Spartans weren’t exactly sluggish to start, but the Phoenix were on fire, making 10 of their first 15 shots, opening a 22-17 lead on Michigan State with 14 minutes to play in the first half.
That’s when things cooled off for Green Bay and Michigan State took off by outscoring Green Bay, 47-13, the rest of the way to take a 64-35 lead at the break, the most first-half points for Michigan State since it scored 63 last season against Cleveland State. The Spartans made their last seven shots of the half, including a flurry in the final seconds.
Winston drove the length of the court and scored on a layup with just less than five seconds left in the half. Xavier Tillman then stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer to cap a 10-0 surge to close the half. Ward was 9-for-9 from the field, scoring 22 points and blocking four shots. Winston and McQuaid each scored 10 for the Spartans while Winston also had eight assists.
“They got a chance to make a great run at it,” Green Bay coach Linc Darner said of MSU. “They got a point guard that can really go. They can score inside and can make 3s. They’re a tough matchup. Their bench will keep getting better and better as they keep playing.”
The second half saw Michigan State push the lead to 34 points before the effort and execution started to wane. It was that performance that frustrated Izzo and had the players realizing that time is running out to work out the kinks as Big Ten play picks up again after the first of the year.
“What I didn’t like is we have to learn how to finish,” Izzo said. “Finish games, finish practice and finish a season. I didn’t like the way we finished the last couple of seasons, so the motto has been, ‘Let’s try and finish every event, every day.’ Today, we didn’t finish.”