East Lansing – Less than six minutes into Michigan State’s game against Minnesota on Saturday, it was clear Matt McQuaid was going to do things differently.
No longer was the Spartans senior going to focus solely on defense and maybe take a few shots here and there. Michigan State needs McQuaid to be much more than that. It needs him to be a complete player, especially with Joshua Langford out for the season.
So, with the ninth-ranked Spartans desperate for a spark, one that would allow them to end a three-game losing streak and remain in the thick of the Big Ten race, McQuaid made the choice to be that guy, scoring 18 points and handing out eight assists in Michigan State’s 79-55 victory over Minnesota at the Breslin Center.
“I just gotta stay aggressive,” McQuaid said. “We’ve been emphasizing that all week. … I’ve got to continue to do that.”
There’s little doubt Michigan State (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) will need McQuaid to continue to be the player he was on Saturday. Getting it consistently will be the key.
In the previous two games — losses at home to Indiana and at Illinois — McQuaid took a total of seven shots, going 1-for-3 against the Hoosiers and 2-for-4 against the Fighting Illini. That came after three games when McQuaid took 10, 12 and 12 shots. Only five times has he taken more than 10 shots in a game, but it’s the volume Michigan State needs from its senior captain.
On Saturday, with it feeling like Michigan State could ill afford its first four-game skid in 12 years, McQuaid took his first shot less than three minutes into the game, was 3-for-4 at halftime and finished the game 6-for-9, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
True to his personality, McQuaid, who ended up two points short of matching his career high, deflected any of the praise coming his way, instead focusing on how the team turned things around.
“It felt good,” McQuaid said. “We got back to what we do, which is defend, rebound and run. We haven't been doing that the previous games, and tonight I felt we did a really good job at doing all three. We helped each other out and played Michigan State defense. We can always get better and improve, and it starts on the defensive end. We have to build off this win.”
The resurgence for McQuaid came with a little help — his dad.
“Matt's dad came up and came to practice yesterday,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the win over Minnesota. “Matt shot the lights out at practice, so I'm gonna see if he'll get an apartment for a month or something. It made a big difference.
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“Matt shot really well yesterday, and he shot even better today. Got a little crazy there a couple times. I guess I don't blame him, he's been in a little bit of a slump. … Matt was great.”
Whether Rob McQuaid forgoes the warmth of the Dallas suburbs to hang out in Michigan the next couple of months seems like a stretch. So it will be up to McQuaid to get it done on his own.
Of course, the Spartans won’t remain a championship contender with McQuaid alone. In Saturday’s victory, McQuaid and junior Cassius Winston combined for 17 assists and no turnovers, quite a turnaround from the loss at Illinois earlier in the week when Michigan State handed the ball away 24 times. The Spartans also got a big game from junior center Nick Ward, who scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds after pulling down just one against Illinois.
It was the sort of performance that led to a tough couple of days of practice, two days that paid off in one of Michigan State’s most complete games of the season.
“It was tough,” McQuaid said of the last couple of weeks. “We were on a three-game losing streak and our backs were against the wall. Coach challenged us every day and we needed it and I feel like we answered the bell, but we gotta continue to build off this.”
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It won’t take Michigan State long to figure out if they’ve turned the corner or not. The Spartans turn around quickly and hit the road to take on Wisconsin on Tuesday at the Kohl Center, a building they won at last season but had lost at the previous three trips.
The Badgers (17-7, 9-4) are scrambling to stay in the title hunt, as well, after losing at Michigan on Saturday. But they’ve won six of the last seven and will be a tough team to beat.
The Spartans will be fine if they get a similar performance from McQuaid and avoid what led to their three-game skid in the first place.
“It was just look at the situation and go back to your roots,” Izzo said. “At times I try to forget where I came from, but I mean that sincerely, you forget what got you to where you are. I think when you have success over and over, and this is what is so much harder. It has been so long since I gave my social media commercial, but you hear so many good things (on social media), and I thought we got a little fat and sassy. I really did. I just did not think we did the things we needed to do. I think they understood that too.”