'Dudes made plays': Michigan State shakes off rough first half, disposes of Rutgers
East Lansing — Take a starter out of the lineup, and there’s bound to be an adjustment period.
Take out a second, and you can count on things not looking their best when a team gets back on the court.
For Michigan State, that fine-tuning took about 20 minutes on Wednesday.
In their first game since the Spartans lost Nick Ward to a broken hand, a lackluster first half was followed by a second-half explosion as No. 10 Michigan State used a 20-3 run to knock off Rutgers, 71-60, at Breslin Center.
The win allowed Michigan State (22-5, 13-3 Big Ten) to remain in first place in the conference as it looks to Sunday’s showdown at Michigan.
BOX SCORE: Michigan State 71, Rutgers 60
More:Tillman does his part and a bit more in Spartans victory
“Amazing,” Cassius Winston said, describing his team’s bounce back in the second half. “We found a way. Dudes stepped up. Dudes made plays, and we found a way to win. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Winston was one of those dudes, scoring 28 points with 19 coming in the second half. He also handed out eight assists while Xavier Tillman, who got the start in place of Ward, scored a career-high 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. Matt McQuaid scored 11 and Kenny Goins pulled down 12 rebounds.
Geo Baker scored 17 points to lead Rutgers (12-14, 5-11) while Ron Harper Jr added 11. Eugene Omoruyi and Peter Kiss each scored nine for the Scarlet Knights.
“We missed a lot of open shots in there and I thought we didn’t play very good at all the first half,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I don’t know if we had the jitters. Xavier missed some layups, Aaron Henry missed some layups. We just had lot of guys miss layups.
“But at halftime we just said we gotta play better. I didn’t think my best players played very well the first half. Then in the second half they played really well — Kenny, Cassius, Xavier and McQuaid.”
It was enough to overcome a sloppy first half that included a 14-0 run for the Scarlet Knights, who held a seven-point lead at halftime.
Outside of a roughly three-minute stretch, it was all Rutgers in the first half. The 14-0 run eventually turned into a 19-3 surge after Rutgers got five points in a row from Baker that gave the Scarlet Knights a 28-18 lead. Michigan State managed to chip away slightly, but 9-for-30 shooting and eight turnovers left the Spartans in a 32-25 hole at the break.
“We missed a couple of shots and that always makes the game look ugly and then the turnovers,” Goins said. “I had too many myself really and it just … we had an ugly performance. It didn’t seem like we were off, we just weren’t playing very well.”
It all started to change early in the second half as an 8-0 run pulled the Spartans within three. After Rutgers scored four in a row, Michigan State scored the next seven to tie the score at 40 on a 3-pointer from McQuaid with 12:36 to play. It was on that possession, with the Spartans trailing, that they grabbed four straight offensive rebounds — three from Henry — before McQuaid hit his 3-pointer.
“I think the game was won maybe near the start of the second half with Aaron Henry getting (three) rebounds almost in a row,” Izzo said. “To outrebound them was more like old Michigan State — damn good job.”
The Spartans eventually finished an 11-0 run with a pair of free throws from Henry to take a 44-40 lead with 11:20 left. After a 3-pointer from Rutgers’ Harper Jr., Michigan State kept pouring it on, extending its lead to 53-43 on seven straight points from Winston and a putback from Goins.
That bucket from Goins capped the decisive 20-3 surge.
“It was a really tough game for us,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Michigan State did a great job on the backboards. Coach Izzo is still the best. I thought we could kind of hang around a little bit. We didn't make many free throws, which didn't help us. Obviously, Cassius is the best point guard in the league and he played like it tonight.”
The lead grew to 62-46 with less than four minutes to play on a Tillman layup. Rutgers pulled within 10 points in the final two minutes, but the Spartans were able to put the game away at the free-throw line.
“This is going to bring our team closer together,” Izzo said. “Whether we'll have enough, I don't know, we'll find out. I'm not counting us out.”