East Lansing — Michigan State played its first game as the No. 1 team in the nation on Thursday night, and followed the same formula that helped it earn that top ranking.
Hot shooting, unselfish play and defense that overcame a slow start all contributed as Michigan State beat Maryland, 91-61, at the Breslin Center to win for the 14th consecutive time and remain perfect in the Big Ten as conference play resumed.
The Spartans (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) had 30 assists on 32 made baskets against the Terrapins and had four players score in double figures while making a season-high 16 3-pointers and shooting 57.1 percent (32-for-56). They also turned the ball over just seven times, including once in the second half.
“Both teams were making a lot of shots and then we started clamping down on defense,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I thought when we clamped down better we got our running game going and when we got our running game going we got some wide open threes and the barrage kept going.
“The most impressive two stats for us are having seven turnovers — I think the guys were more fired up for that then the win — and the other one that’s perfect for this team as we start the Big Ten season and that is 30 assists on 32 baskets. That kind of tells me the about the team I have. The most unselfish team around.”
Michigan State coach talks about his team's performance in Thursday's 91-61 win. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Nick Ward scored 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting and is now 38-for-44 over the last five games. Miles Bridges added 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists while Jaren Jackson Jr. had 15 points on five 3-pointers. Cassius Winston added 10 points and eight assists.
Four players had at least five assists as Tum Tum Nairn had six and Matt McQuaid added five.
“This is definitely the most unselfish team, especially because we’re so talented,” Winston said. “I think the biggest thing about our unselfishness is we trust each and everybody’s skill set and talent. So, when I catch the ball it’s not just me out there. I know if I pass it there’s a good chance he’ll make a good play. So, now we’re looking for that better option, that better play and it’s helping us a lot.”
Anthony Cowan scored 26 to lead Maryland (13-4, 2-2) while Kevin Huerter added 16 points, 14 coming in the first half.
Michigan State was also effective on the defensive end after Maryland got off to a quick start, hitting eight of its first 10 attempts and making its first four 3-pointers. However, the Spartans, who entered the game with the top field-goal percentage defense in the nation, clamped down from there as Maryland finished 20-for-53 from the field, including just 7-for-25 in the second half.
Michigan State’s offense found its rhythm early, hitting three of its first four from 3-point range. After Joshua Langford’s went in and out to open the game, Jackson hit two straight followed by one from Bridges to give the Spartans a 9-7 lead just three minutes into the game.
Maryland opened the game 8-for-10 and made its first four 3-pointers, but Michigan State started to clamp down midway through the half as the Terrapins made five of their final 18 attempts.
The Spartans took advantage late in the half and turned the momentum, closing the half on a 15-3 run that led to a 44-32 lead headed to the locker room.
Michigan State players talk about the unselfishness and taking care of the ball in Thursday's 91-61 win. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
With the score tied at 29, Ward scored on a jump hook followed by two straight 3-pointers from Matt McQuaid. After a Maryland timeout, freshman Xavier Tillman took two straight feeds from Winston to push the lead to 41-29 before Tum Tum Nairn nailed a 3-pointer the end of the shot clock to close a 15-0 run with 1:18 left in the half.
Cowan hit a triple for Maryland to end the run and finish the first-half scoring.
“I thought Michigan State was terrific all night,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I’m sure they’ll say their defense wasn’t great early, but after that it was terrific. We were as good as we could be in the first four minutes and you look up and we’re down two.
“They shot it well, they executed at a high level and really guarded well. They’re a heck of a team that played great tonight. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can count on one hand the losses like that.”
The Spartans kept the pressure on in the second half as Jackson returned to the lineup after sitting most of the first half with two fouls. He hit his first two 3-pointers early and Ward got going as well, hitting a pair of short jumpers before splitting a pair of free throws to extend Michigan State’s lead to 59-41 with 14:47 to play.
Michigan State pushed the advantage to 63-41 after two Bridges free throws and a Langford jumper. The Spartans kept rolling from there, extending the lead to 30 when Winston nailed a 3-pointer to make it 82-52 with 5:03 left in the game. The lead grew to 88-56 in the final minutes.
“This game was very important because now our confidence is up,” Bridges said. “I feel like if this was a closer game we’d be like, ‘Ah, are we really that team to beat?’ This win was really a statement win.”