Deep ball doesn't fall, No. 16 Michigan State still trounces Oakland before 18,145 spectators at LCA

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit – The score said Michigan State dominated, and that was accurate.

The 16th-ranked Spartans beat Oakland, 72-49, Saturday in front of a nearly packed house of 18,145 at Little Caesars Arena, the 18th straight time Michigan State has beaten the Grizzlies to remain perfect in the series.

But had Michigan State knocked down even half of the good shots it missed, the margin might have been even more one-sided.

“I wasn't pleased with how we played in general,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But that usually happens when you don't shoot well.”

Oakland's Tray Moddox Jr. gets his shot blocked by Michigan State's Aaron Henry in the first half as the Michigan State Spartans take on Oakland University at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan on December 14, 2019.

Michigan State (7-3, 1-0 Big Ten) was 26-for-58 overall but just 7-for-33 from 3-point range. Senior guard Cassius Winston scored just nine points and was 3-for-13, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range while sophomore Gabe Brown missed all five of his 3-point shots. Sophomore Aaron Henry made 2 of 5 and led the Spartans with 10 points, but the number of shots that went in and out was remarkable.

“I don’t know,” Winston joked after the game. “The rim was not kind.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 72, Oakland 49

Henry scored 10 points to lead the Spartans while Winston and Brown each chipped in nine points. Junior Xavier Tillman added nine points and 13 rebounds or the Spartans, who return to Big Ten play on Wednesday at Northwestern. Michigan State was also dominant down low, scoring 36 points in the paint while controlling the glass, outrebounding Oakland, 54-31.

The poor shooting from 3-point range has been an ongoing issue this season, but one thing is certain — Michigan State isn’t plagued with taking bad shots, it’s just not knocking down the good ones.

“Gabe, I bet he took four or five that were great shots,” Izzo said. “And Cash was 1-for-9 and I just don't remember, I think he took maybe one (bad shot), the first one in the game, and the rest of them I thought were great. Not good, but great. … So those two guys, my best shooters, are 1-for-14.

More:Michigan State-Oakland series takes firm hold in Detroit

“We played good enough defensively and we ran good enough to be better than we were and yet I think you’ve got to give (Oakland) credit. Every time we cracked them they found a way, like right before half, to come back.”

The Golden Grizzlies were never able to truly come back, though, and a big reason was their poor shooting. Oakland (5-6) finished just 17-for-65 from the field for 26.2 percent.

Xavier Hill-Mais scored 10 for Oakland, but he shot 5-for-20 while grabbing seven rebounds.

 “We were pathetic on offense,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “Not bad, pathetic. They made us look bad and we helped ourselves look bad.”

It was a slow start for the Spartans before they erupted on a 20-3 run to take control in the first half. A Winston 3-pointer got things going as fifth-year senior Kyle Ahrens followed with a 3-pointer. Sophomore Thomas Kithier scored two straight buckets in the stretch followed by two in a row from Brown, the second resulting in a three-point play after he was fouled on the break.

A 3-pointer from seldom-used fifth-year senior Conner George and a running jumper from Winston capped the run to give Michigan State a 24-9 lead with 8:14 to play in the first half. The lead eventually grew to 19 as Tillman scored on back-to-back trips to give the Spartans a 34-15 advantage. However, Oakland scored the final four points to cut the deficit to 34-19 at halftime.

Michigan State scored the first 10 points of the second half to open it up and was never truly threatened from that point, even as Oakland dropped in a handful of 3-pointers over the final 10 minutes.

With a better defensive effort and an improved fast break in the first half on Saturday, the focus now for the Spartans as they head to Northwestern on Wednesday is to start seeing the ball go in the basket from long range.

Winston believes it’s only a matter of time.

“We got every look that we can we can imagine,” Winston said. “Even myself, so you have the opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of it. I'm not gonna complain though, because if we keep getting those looks we’re gonna hit shots. If not, we’ve got to do it another way if the shots aren’t falling. We did a good job when we weren't hitting shots. We made sure they weren't scoring either, so we’ve got to keep getting stops, keep getting stops and keep getting the looks that we want. Eventually something's gonna shake.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau