No. 3 Michigan State (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) staved off a scare from Rutgers (6-3, 0-2) on Tuesday in an uninspiring 62-52 win on the road.
It marked the seventh straight win for coach Tom Izzo’s team, who ended a three-day, two-game Big Ten run with a pair of victories. Now the Spartans can rest a bit, with just one game between now and Dec. 16.
WHY: Michigan State looked unprepared for Rutgers’ defensive pressure out of the gate, turning the ball over with regularity and forcing tough shots. Izzo took this as an opportunity to teach his best players a lesson by sitting them on the bench. When he finally put point guard Cassius Winston in late in the second half, the Spartans began to pull away.
WHAT IT MEANS: It means Izzo is willing to risk a loss to make a point. It also means Michigan State’s offense has a long way to go. Sure, the Spartans can be lethal on the break and have multiple players who can score, but when faced with a zone defense or a stingy man-to-man, they can have trouble breaking it down. Then they revert to going one-on-one.
— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) December 6, 2017
WHO STARRED: Jaren Jackson Jr. The easy choice would be Miles Bridges, who scored 21 points and hit 5 3-pointers. But this game was not won with offense. The Spartans got it done on the other end by forcing yet another team to shoot worse on 2-pointers (25.5 percent) than 3-pointers (26.7 percent). That was largely because of Jackson, who used his length to match a program record with 8 blocks. Most importantly, he was able to stay on the floor for 26 minutes without being hampered by foul trouble.
WHO STUMBLED: Nick Ward. He didn’t get many chances to prove himself. Ward started the first half but not the second, and he played only 11 minutes. Now that Michigan State has more depth in the front court, it seems much easier for Izzo to take Ward out when he’s unsatisfied with his sophomore big man’s effort and defense. Ward finished with 3 points and 5 rebounds after spending much of the game on the bench looking disinterested. His playing time elicited an eyebrow-raising tweet from his mother.
One man's trash is another man's treasure. @IamNickWard
— Stephanie Ward (@Stephdubs3) December 6, 2017
WHO IS NEXT: Michigan State will not play again until Saturday, when the Spartans host Southern Utah. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at 6 p.m.
Nick Ward has played just 11 minutes in two different games this year. Never played that few as a freshman — largely out of necessity, obviously. pic.twitter.com/ZGGT97oQs9
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski) December 6, 2017