Going into the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State players said they would not reserve energy in their opener with eyes on future games.
Well, the Spartans certainly didn’t hold back against Penn State on Thursday, building an early double-digit lead and gradually expanding it for an easy 78-51 win in the second round of the tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Miles Bridges and Nick Ward, as they often have, led the way for Michigan State, posting 15 points and 9 rebounds apiece. A third freshman, Josh Langford, added 13 points and 5 rebounds.
The fifth-seeded Spartans (19-13, 10-8) move on to the quarterfinals on Friday, where Bridges will look for more of the same highlight reel plays against fourth-seeded Minnesota.
Why it happened
Michigan State moved the ball beautifully, working it inside the paint and back out, finding cutters for easy layups and hitting open jumpers from the perimeter. The final tally: 19 assists for the Spartans vs. 16 total field goals for Penn State (15-18, 6-12).
Defensively, MSU forced a lot of tough outside shots and contested just about every attempt at or near the rim. It was also aided by some poor finishing from the Nittany Lions, who shot 29.1 percent from the field on the afternoon.
What it means
If there was any doubt about whether Michigan State will play in the NCAA Tournament, it has been relinquished. It looks as close to certain as ever that Tom Izzo has coached the Spartans to their 20th straight tourney berth.
Ward. Penn State’s Mike Watkins had a masterful defensive performance with a tournament-record 8 blocks on Wednesday, but Ward certainly got the better of him a day later. The Spartans big fella scored 9 points early to give Michigan State a 16-6 lead, and it wouldn’t get much closer than that for the rest of the game. Ward has continually shown that his touch around the rim is as good as anyone’s.
Michigan State … for brief stretches. In most of their games away from home, the Spartans have had long turnover-riddled periods that allowed opponents to pull away. An 8-0 run late in the first half pulled Penn State to within 36-27 and in a position to do that to MSU again, but the Spartans called timeout, regrouped and pushed the lead up to 45-27 at the half.
Who was there
A sparse crowd took in the game in the nation’s capital, and it looked as though Michigan State relied on creating its own energy rather than relying on fans. The Spartans had plenty to get excited about as the game went on.
One of the Michigan State fans in the crowd? None other 2000 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player Mateen Cleaves, decked out in Spartans gear.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 9, 2017
Michigan State will get a third game against Minnesota when the two teams go head-to-head Friday at about 2:30 p.m. ET. The game will tip off 25 minutes after the first game of the day, Michigan vs. Purdue. Michigan State won both regular season matchups against the Gophers, though they both took place before the midpoint of January.
Dominance all around from Michigan State. Onto the quarterfinals against Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/LGH5la32it
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski) March 9, 2017