East Lansing, Mich. — Following a loss at Duke and an ankle injury to freshman star Miles Bridges, Michigan State (5-4) didn’t inspire confidence with its response, winning 80-76 over Oral Roberts (1-7) at home on Saturday.
Freshman Nick Ward led the way with his first career double-double, netting 24 points to go with 10 rebounds. Fellow first-year Cassius Winston added 15 points, nine assists and four rebounds.
Michigan State held Oral Roberts to 38 percent shooting but gave up 17 second-chance points on the night. Despite Oral Roberts getting all 76 points from its starters and only giving 20 minutes of action to its bench, the Spartans could not wear down the Golden Eagles and had to stave them off by hitting free throws to close out the game.
WHY: Michigan State’s interior defense made this game nervy. For an offense that has struggled for much of the year, putting up 80 points really wasn’t too disappointing. But to give up 76 points is very concerning. Oral Roberts big man Emmanuel Nzekwesi dominated with 21 points and 13 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end. And even when the Spartans forced missed shots, the Golden Eagles had such great post position that grabbing offensive boards came easily. They had 14 on the night.
WHAT IT MEANS: Michigan State will continue to struggle mightily as long as it doesn’t have Miles Bridges. Not only does the freshman serve as the Spartans’ main offensive threat, but he’s been a very good interior defender and safety valve who can get far above the rim to block shots. Bridges, who stood on crutches in a boot during warmups while nursing an ankle injury, surely wants to get back as badly as his team wants him back.
WHO STARRED: Cassius Winston and Nick Ward. These two freshmen got the job done for Michigan State, especially in transition. Ward sprinted up the floor after defensive rebounds and Winston was quick to take outlet passes and immediately look up the floor. They combined all game on fast breaks, with Winston lobbing Ward pinpoint passes for easy layups.
WHO STUMBLED: Matt McQuaid. To give him credit, offensive struggles didn’t impact his effort. He kept diving on the floor for loose balls and battling on defense. But in this game, he not only didn’t hit the looks he got, but he struggled to get open for many decent attempts at all. He finished with two points on 0-for-2 shooting.
WHO WAS THERE: Michigan State’s newest commit, 2018 Clarkson (Mich.) point guard Foster Loyer, took in the game alongside his father, former Pistons coach John Loyer. Behind them sat fellow 2018 commit Thomas Kithier. Elsewhere, a large pack of football visitors sat with much of the Michigan State staff: head coach Mark Dantonio, quarterbacks coach Brad Salem, linebackers coach Mark Snyder and director of college advancement and performance Curtis Blackwell.
Michigan State commit Foster Loyer is taking in the game with his dad, former Pistons coach John Loyer. (Thomas Kithier is behind them.) pic.twitter.com/knxy02qpbu
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski) December 3, 2016
WHO IS NEXT: Michigan State will be back at the Breslin Center on Tuesday to host Youngstown State in the second of a five-game home stand. The game tips off at 7 p.m. EST on ESPNU.
Final stats: pic.twitter.com/NBjlQm63ez
— Kevin Goheen (@CincyGoGo) December 3, 2016