Michigan State buries Northwestern in reset to Big Ten play
East Lansing — Michigan State wanted to make a statement as Big Ten play resumed this week.
Consider that done as the Spartans’ offense took off in the first half and cruised to an 81-55 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday at the Breslin Center.
“Yeah, absolutely,” senior Kenny Goins said of getting off to a quick start in the conference. “We always start off in the beginning and there’s all these teams clumped together. This is right around the time, four or five or six games in that we start to see separating and starting out 3-0 is a huge boost for us to separate toward the top instead of the bottom.”
That separation began things to in impressive offensive performance from No. 8 Michigan State, led by junior forward Nick Ward, who scored all 21 of his points in the first half on 9-for-14 shooting.
“In the first half Nick played as good and solid offensively and defensively as I’ve seen him play,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
While plenty of teams this season have opted to double- and triple-team Ward in the post, Northwestern tried to guard him one-on-one. The result was not what the Wildcats were hoping for.
“No matter whether they double team me or not, my mindset doesn’t really change,” Ward said. “I’m gonna attack no matter what. But when I first recognized they were not double-teaming me I just went right at ’em.”
Ward had plenty of help as he was one of five players scoring in double figures for the Spartans (12-2, 3-0 Big Ten).
Cassius Winston scored 13 points and handed out 12 assists while Xavier Tillman scored 14 and grabbed eight rebounds. Kyle Ahrens, who started in place of the injured Joshua Langford, scored 11 and Matt McQuaid added 10 points for the Spartans as Goins pulled down 12 rebounds.
Each contributed to the decisive run of the game, which came just after the midway point of the first half with Michigan State leading, 26-24. The Spartans outscored the Wildcats, 21-2, over the next five minutes to put the game away before halftime.
“All of a sudden, the game got out of hand,” Izzo said.
With Michigan State leading by as many as 32 in the second half, things started to get a little sloppy. However, it was on both sides of the ball and Northwestern never took advantage.
Dererk Pardon scored 19 for Northwestern (9-5, 0-3) as the Wildcats were just 3-for-18 from 3-point range. Senior Vic Law, who entered the game averaging nearly 19 points a game, was held to just five points on 2-for-8 shooting.
“I like the fact we can score it,” Izzo said, “but I like the fact even better that tonight we defended it better for the most part, other than a little weak start.”
The first half was tightly contested for the first 12 minutes, however, that’s when the Michigan State offense came alive and ignited the game-changing run that began with the Spartans leading by two and ended with them holding a 47-26 lead.
Ward was 9-for-14 shooting in the first half and had 21 points by halftime. Tillman, Ward’s fellow big man, had some fun, too. He scored 10 in the first half, including a 3-pointer as he scored five straight during Michigan State’s decisive run.
The Wildcats hardly looked fazed early in the game, making their first three shots and hitting five of their first seven. Things dried up from there, however, as Northwestern made just one of nine shots during Michigan State’s 21-2 surge.
The halftime break did little to slow down the Spartans as Northwestern coach Chris Collins called a timeout just 41 seconds into the half after Michigan State scored four quick points. It only delayed the inevitable as Northwestern remained winless in Big Ten play after losing its first two by two points each — on the road against Indiana and at home against second-ranked Michigan.
“Certainly, Michigan State brought the fight to us tonight,” Collins said. “We got off to a decent start offensively, but we never adjusted defensively to their physical play, to their speed. You can’t simulate it in practice. … You can try to simulate what they do but it’s impossible in practice.
“Give them credit. Winston and Ward played at an incredibly high level and have all year.”
Michigan State turns its attention to No. 14 Ohio State as the Spartans head to Columbus for a noon tip on Saturday. It’s place they’ve struggled at over the years, which made getting the win over Northwestern important.
And with five of the next seven on the road, taking care of the home court was just as vital.
“It’ will be a tough conference and that is a pretty good team,” Winston said. “They played some pretty good teams and played them pretty well, too. So it’s gonna be tough getting out on the road. You gotta take care of the home court.
“It’s us against the world (on the road). You’ve got to win all your home games and half your road games. That’s the recipe.”