Michigan State coach discusses 86-57 victory over Nebraska to open Big Ten schedule. Matt Charboneau
East Lansing — The Big Ten season got started earlier than usual as Michigan State hosted Nebraska on Sunday evening and came away with an 86-57 win.
Michigan State (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) started fast with a put-back jam by Jaren Jackson Jr. on the first possession and didn’t let up. That set the tone for a game that was essentially all Spartans.
The Spartans held a 12-point lead at the half and extended it in the final 20 minutes to run away with their first conference win of the season.
Again, defense took center stage for the Spartans. During its last five games, Michigan State has held opponents to 63 points or less.
Nebraska couldn’t seem to find any rhythm on offense as MSU contested just about every shot. The Cornhuskers shot only 25 percent in the first half and finished the game at 27 percent.
James Palmer Jr. led Nebraska (6-3, 0-1) with 15 points.
Although his team finished with another blowout win, with a fifth straight impressive defensive effort, Tom Izzo wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall play.
“All-in-all I guess we’ll take the win,” Izzo said. “I think of all things, I felt we weren’t aggressive defensively, we weren’t aggressive offensively.”
“I’ve got to remember, we’re still young. We’re in this mess of a fifth game in 10 days. I wanted to see if we could handle the success and handle everyone kissing our tails.”
Izzo can always find areas of weakness after a 29-point win, Nebraska coach Tim Miles was glowing with praise for the Spartans.
“This is an excellent team,” Miles said. “This is the best team in my six years that I’ve seen them have.”
“I think their defense is better (than in years past). It’s harder to get where you want on them.”
Offensively, the Spartans didn’t have much touch from 3-point range, hitting 26 percent (5-of-19), but Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr. had strong performances in the paint. Ward led the team with 22 points and Jackson Jr. finished with 15. They combined for 17 rebounds and six blocks.
“It wasn’t very satisfying today,” Izzo said. “That takes nothing away or says nothing about Nebraska. We have to look at what we do. I think they were very well prepared for some special plays we wanted to run.”
Cassius Winston finished with 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds and Miles Bridges added 12 points and six rebounds.
Izzo didn’t hold back after the game, telling his players he expected a better effort and was disappointed with the lack of aggressiveness.
“When (Izzo) was telling us that, it wasn’t like we were mad at him for saying it,” Winston said. “We were agreeing with him that you’re right, we didn’t play our best basketball out there. It just tells you that once we lock in, we keep getting better and better. When we keep getting better and better, this team has no limits.”
With the Big Ten Tournament taking place a week earlier, the conference had to find room for two games on each team’s schedule in early December. The Spartans will travel to Piscataway, N.J., to take on Rutgers on Tuesday night to round out the early conference slate.
A big win won’t satisfy the Spartans that easily as Bridges knew it wasn’t his team’s best effort, but when everything clicks, this team will be tough to beat.
“That just shows how good we are or how good we can be,” Bridges said. “We did play a little stale on offense, miscommunication on defense. That’s just things we can get better at and if we get better at those things, we’ll be a really good team.”
The talent is there to contend with anyone in the nation, but Izzo feels as if there’s still a long way to go for his team to truly reach its potential.
“Yeah, we’ve got bodies, but we’ve still got plenty of work to do,” Izzo said. “When you have a good team, you want to continue to work on the things that are going to make you a great team.”
Connor Muldowney is a freelance writer