MSU welcomes respite ahead of clash with UM

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Kenny Goins (25) finished with 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting despite battling the flu earlier in the week.

East Lansing — Michigan State gets a break this weekend, one that’s probably coming at the perfect time.

After slogging through tens of thousands of miles through the month of November to take on some of the best teams in the country, there was little time for a breath jumping into Big Ten play two days after Christmas.

It’s been fairly steady since, but now, with a much-needed two-game winning streak and two big men fighting to get over a bout with the flu, the Spartans will be more than happy to take a quick break before heading to Michigan on Tuesday.

“We need to take tomorrow off and then figure out what to do again,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after Thursday night’s win over Nebraska. “It’s another glitch in the schedule that might benefit us some because of our situation.”

The situation is the health of sophomore Kenny Goins and freshman Nick Ward. Both were slowed early in the week by the flu and each labored against the Cornhuskers while still making an impact.

Spartans 'locked in' on 3-pointers, prevail

Goins started for the first time in 10 games — a move strictly based on the health of Ward — and scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting while Ward also scored 10 as each went in and out of the lineup. How much each could contribute wasn’t clear heading into Thursday and the Spartans had to go deep into the rotation.

“It’s really important for (them),” Izzo said. “When you look on the floor tonight … DJ (assistant coach Dwayne Stephens kept trying to rotate them and we used Matt Van Dyk a little bit, but we were slow all night with those two guys.”

While the break should afford Goins and Ward the time to get back to 100 percent, the fact Michigan State can play 10 or 11 players on any given night helps. That, alone, is a bit of a revelation as Izzo has battled to develop a rotation all season.

Injuries have played a part in causing issues, but now in early February, counting on a deep bench seems to helping the Spartans, who played 11 in the win over the Cornhuskers.

“I guess it is a plus,” Izzo said. “Our margin for error is still slim, but it's probably a little better than I think because of it. Sometimes you have quality depth. Sometimes you have quantity depth. We have quantity depth that has a little quality.”

Izzo hasn’t had much time to worry much about the quality as he’s been forced to use his bench extensively. According to kenpom.com, Michigan State counts on its reserves 45.5 percent of the time, more than any other team in the country.

So what once was perceived as a problem appears to be helping.

“We don't have size and we don't have those few superstars on this team,” Goins said. “We have a solid team. It takes all 10, 11 guys, all the way down to MVD, a walk-on, just like me. You never know who is going to get in.

“That’s why everybody always has to be ready and know what we're doing.”

As Izzo said again on Thursday, it’s taken time for it all to come together, but in each game there are signs it is.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Izzo said. “We still have deficiencies and still have scary moments if somebody gets two or three fouls. But this team is starting to learn how to play harder and we did execute some great things. We were a little sloppy at the end, but I just think we’re getting better because we’re playing together.”

That togetherness was clear in the win over Michigan Sunday and even more so in Lincoln. There were still too many turnovers, but the ball movement was as good as it’s been this season and there seemed to be a confidence that has been missing at times this season.

If this week has truly been a turning point remains to be seen, but it’s clear it will be all hands on deck for the Spartans.

“It’s just confidence,” guard Cassius Winston said. “We came into this game with no room for error. If we want our goals we put out at beginning of season, if we want to make them come true then we’ve got to play our best basketball and play consistently, playing like we’ve got nothing to lose.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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