Defensive effort by Henry and McQuaid helps Spartans stifle Gophers
Des Moines, Iowa — Aaron Henry and Matt McQuaid didn’t light up the scoreboard on Saturday night, but that hardly took away from what the tandem meant to Michigan State.
The No. 2-seeded Spartans rolled over No. 10 Minnesota, 70-50, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Region at Wells Fargo Arena, and they used a balanced scoring attack and some timely buckets by Cassius Winston to do it.
But Michigan State also got a stellar defensive effort from Henry and McQuaid as they teamed to slow down two of Minnesota’s best scorers. Freshman Gabe Kalscheur scored only two points while junior Amir Coffey had 27 but took 24 shots to get there.
“Probably the unsung heroes were probably Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Aaron had nine rebounds and his defense was great. Coffey got 27 and Aaron was on him a lot, but he took 24 shots. I thought Aaron Henry’s defense was phenomenal.”
Henry drew most of the time on Coffey while McQuaid was on Kalscheur. There was some switching in the second half, but overall, both were dialed in.
Izzo said it showed the Spartans have now found another solid defender after losing Joshua Langford to injury in late December.
“He did a hell of a job,” Izzo said of Henry. “We don’t put many freshmen on the best players. We did a hell of a job with McQuaid, too. We were worried about Kalscheur as good as he played the last game, so now we’ve got two lock-down defenders like we started the year with — McQuaid a little and, of course, Josh Langford, and that really helps.”
Henry finished with nine points and nine rebounds, as well, capping a whirlwind weekend that had him in the center of some controversy when Izzo was criticized for yelling at Henry in the win over Bradley on Thursday.
For Henry, his assignment of checking Coffey was another example of the trust his coach has in him.
“When Coach Izzo trusts me guarding a player like that, that says a lot for him,” Henry said. “He stayed on me the whole way, he knows it’s not an easy task. He tried to bear with me without yelling at me, but he did, and I like that when he does that because I know he’s there for me still and he cares. It’s huge for him to do that for me and (Coffey is) a tough cover.
“He said it was a good bounceback game for me to have. All the stuff going on, he didn’t know how a freshman was gonna react like me. I appreciate him for staying on me. It shows how much he cares and shows why I came here.”
Ward back in form
Junior center Nick Ward played 19:44, the most playing time he’s received since returning from a broken hand at the start of the Big Ten tournament.
He finished with nine points and seven rebounds and was 4-for-8 shooting.
“I'm just getting back in the swing of things,” Ward said. “I was out (three) weeks, so I'm just excited to be on the court. I'm starting to feel like my regular self again. So, I'm good, personally.”
Just getting Ward back as a regular part of the rotation will be critical for the Spartans as they move forward. But with a chance for some more practice time, there’s the hope he’ll start to get back to being more of a contributor, as he was at times on Saturday.
“Since Nick has been back, we had two practices before the Big Ten tournament and now we have 1 1/2 practices since then,” Izzo said. “Now we go back Sunday, probably take the day off Monday and then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday get to practice and that's going to be good for him. I think the guys were good and they wanted to get the ball into him. They know he's been hurting. He's averaging 17, 18 points a game and it's taken away from you and you want to get it all back in one possession.
“I thought he was really good early and then all of the sudden he started forcing a few things and then he settled down late and that was a big step to keep him in there late. So I'm happy for Nick. It's be not easy to do what he's trying to do.”
Michigan State turned the ball over 22 times against Minnesota, the third time this season it has given the ball up 20 or more times in a game. It is the second time the Spartans have won such a game after beating Texas in November after committing 24 turnovers. They gave the ball up 24 times in a loss at Illinois in early February.
“I thought we were very sloppy,” Izzo said. “The turnovers were borderline ridiculous. I almost had to take a check at halftime if we were color blind because we threw some right to them.”
… Izzo now has 50 NCAA Tournament victories, moving him into fifth place all-time.
… Michigan State improved to 22-6 in the second game of a weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
… Michigan also won on Saturday, meaning the Big Ten is the only conference to send more than one team to the Sweet 16 in each of the last 12 seasons.