EAST LANSING, Mich. — Maryland coach Mark Turgeon realized with 15 minutes left in the first half on Thursday that it wouldn’t be his team’s night.
Along with national Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges, Michigan State had Tum Tum Nairn, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins and Gavin Schilling on the floor. The latter four offer contribute more than 15 points per game. Combined. Holding a 10-9 lead, Maryland had a chance to capitalize against the No. 1-ranked Spartans’ subpar offensive lineup.
Nairn flashed to the top of the key and somehow attracted two defenders despite having taken just five 3-pointers on the year. No one bothered to cover Kenny Goins, a career 0 for 1 shooter from deep whose first attempt came on Sunday. Nairn swung it to the right wing. Goins lofted the 3-pointer the way he did thousands of times over the summer, and it swished right through.
Turgeon turned to his assistants with a dumbfounded look and turned his palms upward, which said more than words could. Goins had never hit a deep ball in a college game ― not even an exhibition ― until the first half of a one-point game against his team.
“It was not on our scouting report that he can shoot threes,” Turgeon said later. “That’s for darn sure. He shot it like he had been working on it, and he continued to shoot it like he had been working on them. Those were big.”
Michigan State (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) already has one of the nation’s best starting lineups in Bridges, Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward, all of whom average double-figure scoring. And when substituting doesn’t result in any drop-off, the Spartans are nearly unbeatable. Against a shorthanded Maryland squad, it resulted in a 91-61 blowout in East Lansing, Mich.
The best plus/minus score didn’t come from Bridges, who played 33 minutes, or Ward, who scored a team-high 16 points. Junior guard Matt McQuaid, a 3-point specialist who shot 12 of 43 (27.9 percent) from deep to open the season, helped Michigan State outscore Maryland by 30 points in his 24 minutes on the floor.
“I was just doing my job and trying to do what I can to help the team win, whether it was rebounding, assists, knocking down shots,” McQuaid said. “Whatever the game brought to me, I was taking.”
McQuaid’s hot shooting continued with a 2 for 4 performance from long range for all 6 of his points. He has now hit 16 of 29 (55.2 percent) from 3-point range in the last six games.
But it was about much more than McQuaid’s shooting. He dished out 5 of Michigan State’s 30 assists on the night and even led the Spartans with 7 rebounds. He said he might let Spartans coach Tom Izzo know about the rebounding numbers, but Izzo already knew and said he’d get on his big men about it.
“It’s not gonna continue,” said Jackson, who set a new season low with a single rebound. “I’m so happy for Matt. Great game. That won’t happen again. That means we’ve got to be a lot more active if Matt’s leading us in rebounding, but I’m proud of him for picking up our slack.”
McQuaid’s biggest impact, though, won’t show up on a standard stat sheet. In the first 12:12 of the game, largely against Langford, Maryland sophomore guard Kevin Huerter scored 14 points. For the rest of the game, tasked mainly with going up against McQuaid, Huerter wouldn’t score another field goal.
With just over 4 minutes left in the half, McQuaid tightly contested a Huerter step-back jumper that fell well short, then broke for the left wing and hit his second 3-pointer in a row to push the Spartans’ lead to 37-29. It elicited a yelp from FOX Sports 1 commentator Bill Raftery and seemed to set the Breslin Center aflame. The stingy defense continued after the break, where Huerter’s only points came off a pair of free throws.
“I thought that was the difference in the second half,” Izzo said. “For some reason, Josh struggled a little bit tonight. He’s been maybe one of my most consistent players, and Huerter is a hard guy to guard. He’s a pro at using screens, and we were always trailing them for some reason. You know Josh got caught a little bit inside, and Matt saw that and stayed outside. He still hurt us some, but in the second half the guy gets 2 points, and I give Matt a lot of credit for that.”
Defensive effort and hustle will always garner a greater reaction from Izzo, and his bench earned the acclaim against Maryland. Freshman big man Xavier Tillman screened and rolled his way to 6 points and added 5 rebounds, but his biggest moment was one that didn’t even give his team points or possession.
An attempted pass from Huerter got deflected late in the first half and headed toward the sideline. Surrounded by smaller, more fleet-footed players, Tillman broke toward the ball and dove into his bench trying to save it. Izzo helped pick him up and gave him a pat in the back of the head in appreciation.
Think this @MSU_Basketball team likes each other?
Check out Tom Izzo picking his freshman up off the floor! pic.twitter.com/EEzvIdOxd9
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 5, 2018
“I’ve been looking for a guy that likes to dive on the floor and get his elbows bloody and his knees,” Izzo said. “He plays with some passion. We’re trying to get him more minutes. He’s been one of the bright spots. I thought that was a big key.”
Nairn hit a rare 3-pointer. Schilling got a steal. Michigan State’s bench players showed that when the starters don’t provide necessary energy, they will be ready. That depth wears opponents down, especially a Maryland team that recently lost two players to season-ending injuries.
Forty minutes is too long to try to hang with the Spartans when their unsung heroes play at such a high level. It’s why they have outscored opponents by 192 in first halves and 233 in second halves. Savannah State or Maryland, it doesn’t seem to matter.
“When Kenny made those plays and McQuaid hit those threes, it really takes a big load off my back,” Bridges said. “And that just shows what type of team this is.”