East Lansing — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo cautioned that facing lowly Northwestern could be a trap game.
Maybe some other time.
The No. 14 Spartans (16-5, 8-2 Big Ten), who entered the game tied for first in the Big Ten, faced little resistance from last-place Northwestern at Breslin Center Wednesday night and dominated with a 79-50 victory. The Wildcats (6-14, 1-9) have lost 10 of their last 11.
“Michigan State out-everythinged us tonight right from the jump,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Their physicality and will came at us.”
This makes two straight wins for the Spartans, who are in the midst of a tough section of their schedule. MSU has played three games in the last six days and have a few days off before traveling to Wisconsin on Saturday, then returning home to face Penn State on Tuesday and traveling to Michigan on Feb. 8.
While the Spartans checked off a couple of priorities coach Tom Izzo had set out — getting off to a fast start, which they did with a 16-2 burst in the opening seven minutes, and rebounding, which they dominated, 44-27 — they failed to fulfill a biggie, one that has Izzo concerned.
“I wasn’t happy with our consistency,” said Izzo, who described as “mediocre” a stretch late in the first half that allowed the Wildcats to pull within 18-15.
Izzo isn’t in the newspaper business, but he offered a suggestion to headline writers after this win.
“My headline would be, 'Consistency with a question mark,'” Izzo said. “You can get away with that against certain teams. You’re probably not going to get away with it on the road anywhere in this league. If you look at the teams we’ve got coming in here now, there’s not going to be many nights off the next 10 games. If we don’t get that consistency, it’s going to rear its ugly head and get us.”
Cassius Winston led the team with 18 points and electrified the Breslin crowd with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final five minutes. Foster Loyer and Xavier Tillman each had 12 points. Loyer was 4-of-6 from the 3-point line. But it was Winston’s team-high five turnovers that drew Izzo’s focus.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, speaking after a 79-50 victory over Northwestern, said he is concerned with the team's lack of consistency. The Detroit News
“The foolish turnovers are continuing,” said Izzo, referring to the Spartans’ 13 against Northwestern. “Cassius has to play better. There’s nothing wrong with missing shots, but some of those turnovers — that’s not like him.”
Freshman Malik Hall made his second straight start and was an early boost for the Spartans, scoring six of their first nine points. Izzo went with Hall again after inserting him into the starting lineup last Sunday at Minnesota in an effort to spark the Spartans after a loss to Indiana. But Hall, who played 16 minutes, suffered what Izzo described as a slight ankle sprain.
And Aaron Henry returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench at Minnesota, a move intended to motivate him. Henry scored six points on 2-of-9 shooting and had four assists. Izzo said it was “frustrating” to see the lack of point production considering how well Henry has been shooting in practice.
The Spartans led 33-22 at halftime, outrebounding Northwestern 24-9.
They built on a 7-0 run that ended the first half and quickly built a 40-22 lead in the early minutes of the second half, kicked off by a 3-pointer from Winston. And off they went.
With just less than 10 minutes left, Henry hit a 3-pointer to build a 22-point lead, then Julius Marble dunked for a 51-27 lead but was called for hanging on the rim. Izzo was momentarily livid, as Marble faced him, looking incredulous because there had been a Northwestern player under him. Izzo relented but the Breslin crowd grew louder, angry with the call.
Later, Izzo said he knew that technically it was a by-the-book call, but Marble avoided causing injury.
“It was pretty obvious the kid was running right under him,” Izzo said. “He should have just hung, let the kid hit his feet, get an injury. I didn’t like (the call but) I understood it. “
The Spartans responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from Loyer and Gabe Brown and the crowd erupted as the rout continued.
“To win big like this will give us a lot of confidence going into the next game,” Tillman said.
Northwestern was outscored 46-28 in the second half.
“Some nights you run into teams like this who are really good and old and tough and they let you know where you need to go,” Collins said. “I thought we tried to fight back, we got down 16-2, we made that run to get it to 18-15, they closed the half strong with a couple 3s. Second half, they outplayed us in every way.
“We have to learn from this and get better. We’re playing a lot of freshmen. These are the type of games when you play against the Michigan State team, it can be a real learning experience if you handle it the right way. We’ve been very competitive recently. Our results haven’t showed. I felt like we were making progress. Tonight, we got handled. Give Michigan State credit for that.”