East Lansing — Nick Ward took care of the beginning of the game Sunday, and Jack Hoiberg finished it off.
No. 11 Michigan State tied the biggest margin of victory in program history, blitzing Tennessee Tech 101-33, closing a stretch of three blowouts to prepare the Spartans for a tough road ahead.
BOX SCORE:Michigan State 101, Tennessee Tech 33
Ward, whose availability was in question after suffering a right ankle sprain on Wednesday, scored Michigan State’s first eight points en route to a game-high 23.
But it was Hoiberg, the redshirt freshman in goggles and son of Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who drew the loudest cheers from the “Izzone.”
Hoiberg, who spurned a golf scholarship to walk on at MSU, splashed a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left to break 100 points, setting off a Breslin Center celebration.
“It was an exciting feeling, an exciting opportunity,” Hoiberg said, adding that his dad texted congratulations after the game. “I was just trying to make a couple free throws, that’s all I was trying to do. But it worked out in a good way.”
The 68-point win tied the margin of a 121-53 victory against Morehead State on Dec. 1, 1992, when Shawn Respert scored 32 points to pace MSU.
Sunday, it was Ward who led the way, with powerful and deliberate jump hooks early on to set a dominating tone for coach Tom Izzo’s team.
“I was just working as hard as I can,” Ward said. “I just ran my lanes, posted deep. I just did what I could for my team to win.”
Izzo said Ward has been a different player this offseason after testing the NBA waters but returning to East Lansing after not receiving a draft combine invite.
“He is improving the right-hand jump hooks, he’s not getting as frustrated with the double teams,” Izzo said. “In practices, all spring, summer and fall, Nick has been better.”
Added Cassius Winston, who scored 19 points: “It just shows how tough (Ward) is and how far he came. Mentally, he’s on a whole different level, just to stay locked in this whole time.”
Tennessee Tech (0-5) dipped the deficit to to 23-14 with a Corey Tillery 3-pointer with 7:42 left in the first half until a Spartans' explosion.
A 19-0 Michigan State run closed the first half and an 11-0 run opened the second for a 53-14 lead.
After halftime, the Spartans started drilling 3-pointers as the lead continued to balloon.
Michigan State shot 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) from deep in the second half to finish 14 for 33 (42.4 percent) for the game.
Izzo said his team was attempting shots from 3 or 4 feet behind the line early, but went inside for kick-outs that resulted in open looks right at the 3-point line in the second half.
The Spartans were 6-for-29 on 3-pointers (20.7 percent) against Louisiana-Monroe on Wednesday and 5 for 20 (25.0 percent) in Sunday’s first half.
Winston said the team can't have lulls to open games in the tough road ahead.
“This team is dangerous,” said Winston, who was 5 for 9 on 3-pointers. “We got hot in the second half, and we’re going to have to carry that over.”
Joshua Langford added 16 points for Michigan State, going 4 of 7 on 3-pointers.
Typical early Izzo scheduling, which he blamed on former Athletic Director Mark Hollis, brings stiff tests for the Spartans, who have had three blowouts since a season-opening loss to Kansas.
The Spartans play No. 20 UCLA on Thursday in the Las Vegas Invitational opener. Then, a game with either No. 7 North Carolina or Texas follows Friday.
“Three, four games in, I feel like we’re a whole different team,” Winston said. “That’s our first time, just being thrown into the fire, trying to figure it out. I feel like now, we know our identity, people know their roles. We know the next games we are going to play, we’re going up against a whole different caliber.”
Izzo — who pointed out that the tough stretch continues after Las Vegas with Louisville, at Rutgers, home against Iowa and at Florida — said he’s interested to see how his team responds.
“There’s not one game that you’re going to breathe in in the next six,” Izzo said. “That’s going to be the hardest thing that we’re going to have to deal with as a coaching staff.
“But it’s also exciting to look at.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer