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Michigan State makes strides defensively, prepares for Purdue's inside-outside game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season during Tuesday night’s victory over No. 15 Rutgers, and if the Spartans expect to extend their winning streak to three and get back to .500 in the Big Ten, they’ll need a similar effort on Friday.

That’s when No. 23 Michigan State hosts Purdue, and the Boilermakers come to the Breslin Center not only as one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the conference, but they also lean heavily on 6-foot-10 junior Trevion Williams (Detroit Henry Ford Academy), who is averaging 14.1 points a game.

Purdue forward Trevion Williams (Detroit Henry Ford Academy) averages 14.1 points per game.

“We played some of our best defense this past game from a standpoint of what we did,” Izzo said. “It’s not just that they missed some shots, but I was very pleased by our energy and our attention to detail.

“We just played harder and you can't play a team like Purdue and say, ‘They're going to go here on this play,’ because it's more of a freelance, motion offense that’s been very effective since Gene Keady was there. So I told our guys, ‘We're gonna have to make some plays defensively, but what we’ve got to do is stay disciplined.’ There’s a lot of back cutting and we have to contest threes and try to do a decent job on Trevion.”

It seems simple enough, but considering the Spartans (8-3, 2-3 Big Ten) hadn’t played well defensively for the better part of the last month, stringing together a couple of solid defensive outings will be critical in getting back in the Big Ten race.

Purdue had its game against Nebraska on Tuesday postponed because of COVID-19 precautions and will be playing for the first time in nearly a week. The Boilermakers (7-5, 2-3) had some solid wins early in the season over Ohio State and Notre Dame but have lost three of their last four, including two in a row at Rutgers and at Illinois.

And as effective as Williams has been, Purdue is fifth in the conference in 3-point shooting, led by junior Sasha Stefanovic, who is shooting 50.7% (34-for-67) from 3-point range, which leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th in the nation.

“We’re going to throw the kitchen sink at (Williams),” Izzo said. “And yet, what normally happens at Purdue is you start worrying about the post and they beat you from the three. So, we’ve got to defend both. Trevion is going to get some buckets, OK. He's a great player, and we can't let that interfere with stopping a 3-point shot because eventually that's what happens — the twos hurt you, the threes kill you.”

Michigan State was especially effective against Rutgers, limiting the Scarlet Knights to just 3-for-12 shooting from 3-point range, including 0-for-8 in the first half.

It was a performance that bumped Michigan State’s defensive efficiency from last in the Big Ten to sixth, and finding a way to get that sort of effort on a nightly basis has been the Spartans’ focus over the past couple of days.

“The one word consistency,” senior guard Joshua Langford said, “That's kind of been a word that we've been rattling around throughout the course of the season and even before the season started. One of the things that we say before the game is, ‘Full 40,’ meaning that we want to go out and put 40 minutes together. We realize that we're not going to be perfect, but we can be consistent. The two are very different.

“So, in terms of our defense, I think one thing that we've done a better job of is communicating and being consistent in that area, and also not relaxing. I mean, just play Michigan State basketball. One of our principles is defending along with rebounding and running, and that's what we do. That's what Michigan State Spartans, and I think we're doing a great job but still have a long ways to go.”

It all sets up for a big game for Michigan State and Purdue, two teams that started slowly but are hoping to put it together and make a run at the Big Ten championship.

“I'm expecting a lot out of Purdue,” Izzo said, “and hopefully a lot out of Michigan State and we’ll see if we can win another game.”

Purdue at No. 23 Michigan State

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: FS1/WJR 760

Records: Purdue 7-5, 2-3 Big Ten; Michigan State 8-3, 2-3

Outlook: Purdue has won four of the last six meeting but Michigan State has won two in a row at the Breslin Center. … The Boilermakers’ game against Nebraska scheduled for Tuesday was postponed because of COVID-19 precautions. … With the win over Ohio State on Dec. 16, Purdue coach Matt Painter has won 50 games over ranked teams.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau