EAST LANSING, Mich. — Six days between games might mean extra rest for some teams.
Not No. 9 Michigan State. Especially not after falling at home to Michigan on Jan. 13 in the only in-state rivalry game of the season. A game would have offered some respite from the brutality of what coach Tom Izzo called “a week of hell” in practice.
At one point, walk-on point guard Jack Hoiberg took a shot to the nose while trying to get through a ball screen. At the freshman’s expense, the Spartans found themselves a symbol of their tough practices.
“He didn’t break it, but it was a lot of blood,” sophomore point guard Cassius Winston said. “A couple drills you could see blood on people’s arms and stuff. Maybe four or five people had blood on them. It’s just getting back to that physical, physical nature.”
Friday ended up being a breeze. Michigan State pushed the pace from start to finish, tiring out an Indiana team missing several players en route to an 85-57 win at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
The box score only showed 8 fast-break points, but the Spartans built their lead by getting up shots 10 seconds into the shot clock or sooner. Indiana missed 39 of its 59 shots, and when Michigan State rebounded, it pushed forward quickly.
“I keep saying it but I guess it’s going on deaf ears,” Izzo said. “If you guard somebody, you guard somebody and they miss shots, you rebound and run it better than you do out of a made shot. I think that was the difference in our running game. We ran a couple times after made baskets, but we got the ball going, we got rebounds, we got movement. There was energy.”
That energy foiled Indiana’s game plan against sophomore big man Nick Ward, who had been shut down by Ohio State and Michigan in the Spartans’ two Big Ten losses. The Hoosiers wanted to double-team Ward, but they had no chance when he sprinted down the floor before they could set up their defense. And when they did set up, Ward masterfully passed out of it.
“They have the best rim-runner in college basketball, Nick Ward, and they forced the action and the transition game,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “They handled the post trap, I thought, really well. … They cut right out of them and burned us, so we weren’t really able to control the transition game, and then you add rebounding to the mix. It was a disaster.”
Ward, in his typical dominant fashion, scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 23 minutes. Whenever he hit the floor, he looked fresh, though Izzo said he thought his players looked tired. He added that they deserved to be, given the week they had endured.
But they never let up. Indiana’s largest run was 7-0, cutting its deficit to 50-32, after which the Spartans responded with a 7-0 run of their own. The energy didn’t die even in the game’s waning minutes, when sophomore wing Miles Bridges threw down a hammer of a one-handed dunk.
“We’ve had teams where we came out to a great start and they were able to come back, like the Rutgers game,” Bridges said. “We just wanted to be able to step on their necks, and we showed a sign of maturity [Friday]. When they went on a run, we went on our run.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance. It never is. But that didn’t really matter on Friday. The week of hell had prepared them so that anywhere near the effort the Spartans gave in practice would be enough for a win.
“We screwed up some defensive assignments [Friday night],” Izzo said. “That’s why I’m not really as pleased as I should be. But when you play with energy, you make up for it. So if somebody screws up, somebody else makes up for it. That’s kind of what I was most excited about.”