Makeshift lineup sparks Michigan State to victory with stars on bench
East Lansing – Nick Ward was sitting on the bench, his left hand wrapped in green tape.
Xavier Tillman was right there, too, four fouls landing him a spot next to his injured teammate.
And Cassius Winston was there, too, running out of gas and staring at three fouls of his own.
It was past the midway point of the second half on Sunday afternoon against Ohio State, and while the game was still tied, the Spartans were desperate for a spark.
Enter a lineup led by seniors Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid as No. 11 Michigan State outscored Ohio State 20-2 over the final seven-plus minutes to pull away for a 62-44 victory to remain in a first-place tie with Michigan in the Big Ten.
Ward scored nine in the first half, but he was late coming out of the locker room for the second half with his left hand wrapped. He played briefly early in the half but spent the rest of the game on the bench.
Ward was sent for X-rays after the game and they revealed a hairline fracture in his left hand.
MSU said there was no timetable for Ward's return to action; he will be evaluated weekly. An MSU press released stated: "It is hoped he will return before the end of the season."
“It’s getting closer to March, so weird things are happening,” McQuaid said. “I just felt like everybody did a good job doing their job, especially on the defensive end. We did a great job defending and getting clean rebounds to get our transition game going.”
The weird alludes to the fact the Spartans (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) turned the game around with a lineup that featured Goins, McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens, as well as freshmen Thomas Kithier and Foster Loyer. With the game tied at 42, that group scored the next eight points and capped a 10-0 run after Winston subbed back in for Loyer.
A 3-pointer from Ahrens got it going followed by a jumper from the elbow by Goins and another triple from McQuaid.
“It was just a bunch of guys that were fresh coming off the bench and guys that really know how to do their job,” Goins said. “Thomas did a great job. McQuaid is always doing a great job and X was in and out, he’s a real smart defender. Everyone was helping each other and taking care of their business.”
It helped Michigan State overcome a sloppy game that saw Winston go just 3-for-15 from the field. He did manage to score 13 points and dish out eight assists.
McQuaid and Goins helped pick up the slack as McQuaid scored 14 points while Goins added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“They've got a lot of other really good players,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “They're a good team. I think when you look at how they play together offensively and defensively you can take away a guy or two and obviously Winston is really important for them, but they've got a lot of good players and they play really well together, and they make it difficult for you to do things as well.”
The other key to the game was Michigan State’s defense. Some shots were popping in and out for both teams, but Ohio State made just 4-of-21 shots in the second half and committed 11 turnovers after halftime. The Buckeyes finished 18-for-56 with 15 turnovers.
Kaleb Wesson scored 12 for the Buckeyes (16-9, 6-8), who have now lost two straight.
“We looked disheveled a little bit, we looked out of sync a little bit,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We had a lot of different lineups in there, but we did what we had to do.”
Ohio State controlled most of the first half, jumping out to a 14-5 lead just six minutes in after scoring seven points in a row. Michigan State started to get the ball to go into the hoop after making just one of its first six shots. A triple from Ahrens was followed by a Ward dunk on the break and a McQuaid 3-pointer in transition to give the Spartans a 20-18 lead with 5:34 to play in the half.
The Buckeyes responded with six straight points to regain the lead, but the Spartans went back up 25-24 on a pair of Ward free throws. It was all Ohio State from there, however, as the Buckeyes scored the final seven points of the half to take a 31-25 lead into the locker room.
Michigan State had a little more jump in the second half, scoring the first five points to draw within a point of the Buckeyes and it took its first lead in the half, 39-38, when McQuaid nailed a 3-pointer with 11:55 to play. The teams traded threes after that before Ahrens nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to put Michigan State up, 45-42, with 7:24 to play.
The Spartans kept rolling, pushing the lead to 52-42 as it capped the 10-0 run with a layup from Kithier off a dish from Winston with 4:35 to play.
“I just know that you had to find a way to win that game,” Izzo said, “and as we talked about with five minutes left, we're up a few, I said, ‘This is the way it's going to be now. We're not blowing anybody out usually.’ So I'm proud of my team for that, I'm just disappointed in why we started like we did, especially at home.”