MSU basketball has made it a habit to play down to teams of lower-level competition over the past couple of years. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth on Tuesday night as they dominated the North Florida Ospreys of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The 5th-ranked Spartans (9-1) grabbed the 78-48 victory without three key players — Gary Harris (ankle), Matt Costello (mononucleosis) and Travis Trice (foot blisters) — who are battling various health issues, something that’s been bothering Tom Izzo’s team all season. And yet, despite missing a combined 28 points per game — 32 if you add in redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski who has been suspended indefinitely by Izzo for off-the-court issues, MSU had no trouble putting numbers on the board.
As the first half started nearing towards the final 10 minutes, the Spartans were on a 21-8 run led by guys who would come off the bench if it weren’t for the absence of Harris and Costello.
In the first 10 minutes of the first half, sophomore Denzel Valentine — who got the start — scored five points, redshirt junior Alex Gauna — also got the start — scored two of his six points and hauled in two rebounds, and freshmen Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis III combined for five points.
Michigan State didn’t take its foot of the throat of the Ospreys (5-7) as the half went on, and they finished the final 9:53 on a 27-11 run. One of the men behind that run was redshirt junior Russell Byrd who had six of his career-high 10 points in the 50-19 first half beating.
And while the bench’s contributions were more than enough, still, it was the usual suspects, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, who made their presence felt throughout the majority of the game. Payne finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three steals, and Dawson ended with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Senior point guard Ketih Appling has been missing his partner in crime, Harris, for the Spartans’ past two games, and the three-year starter looked out of sync today on the offensive end. Appling finished with eight points on 2-of-8 shooting with four assists, and it seemed as if he was forcing things rather than letting the game come to him.
Valentine and Ellis did a solid job on both ends of the floor in the absence of Harris and Trice. Valentine finished with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Ellis finished with only four points, but did a good job on the defensive end while taking advantage of game-time experience that may not be there as frequently once Harris returns.
The Spartans will travel to Texas this Saturday where they will face the Longhorns (9-1) on their home court.