EAST LANSING, MI — For the past couple of weeks, coach Tom Izzo has called Michigan State basketball’s home matchup against Minnesota the toughest home game of their season, implying that this was a huge game for MSU.
“It was crazy,” said freshman point guard Cassius Winston, who experienced his first big-time conference game at the Breslin. “We were ready for this one. We were ready for our first ranked team. They came to our crib, so we had to win.”
Clad in their throwback Michigan Agricultural College uniforms,
Moo U the Spartans trotted out on to the floor Wednesday with a bravado that hasn’t been seen from the team this season. And they delivered.
The start of the game was quick. Nick Ward racked up two fouls in his first five minutes on the floor and didn’t see the court again the entire half. After another highlight reel Miles Bridges dunk, the Izzone was rocking and it looked like MSU was going to race out to a huge lead. The score was 13-9 after six minutes and then no team scored for another five minutes. The remainder of the half couldn’t have gone better; it ended on a 15-0 Michigan State run that lasted over five minutes and consisted of Eron Harris getting to the basket, Miles Bridges’ usual antics and Joshua Langford showcasing his gorgeous shooting stroke. Things looked bright for the green and white at half time; they led 39-17.
The Spartans didn’t miss a beat to begin the second half, dominating the boards and setting up an Alvin Ellis three to force Minnesota into a timeout with 18 minutes remaining in the game. As the half progressed, though, Michigan State seemed to lose its offensive touch. For two minutes in the middle of the half, the Spartans went scoreless. During that time, however, Minnesota was only able to close the gap by one point. From there on out, the game was on cruise control for the Spartans. They didn’t let the lead get within 17 points for the remainder of the game. Although Miles Bridges slowed way down in the second half — he had 16 points in the first half before being blanked in the second — Nick Ward returned (before fouling out with about two minutes left) and took some important trips to the charity stripe to seal the game.
For once, the team, coming off a disappointing loss against Penn State at the Palestra, looked like a well-oiled machine ready to take on the biggest teams in the Big Ten. Everyone that’s going to be playing the rest of the year is healthy, and the team is beginning to look like the elite force they were supposed to be at the beginning of the season.
What we learned
Josh Langford’s shot is gorgeous. We kind of already knew this, but amidst Michigan State’s fiery tear at the end of the first half showed Langford’s true shooting ability. He has been hampered by injuries all season, but it’s beginning to look as if he is coming into his own.
“I feel like my injury slowed me down a bit, but I feel like I’m starting to get more comfortable on the court,” said Langford, who scored 13 points on 6-9 shooting. “I think the Christmas Break was a big break for me with my condition. I’m starting to get back into the swing of things.”
Wearing the old school uniforms, Langford was able to show off his old-school elbow jumpers and boy, were they beautiful. The shots are high-arching with a high release point and barely move the net when they sneak through the basket. Every basketball lover’s dream.
— Jameson Draper (@jamdraper) January 12, 2017
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the reason MSU has trouble putting up points sometimes is due to the lineups Izzo runs out. Eron Harris, Miles Bridges, Josh Langford and Nick Ward are all legitimate scorers. However, we’ve been seeing Izzo run out some, uh, interesting lineups. In the first half, I noticed one lineup – Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Matt Van Dyk, Alvin Ellis and Kenny Goins – that caught my eye. In a bad way. The Spartans ended up running out that lineup a couple more times throughout the game, and I just don’t get it. The lineup has no scorers in it. The only players that can actually shoot the ball in that lineup are McQuaid and Ellis and we know they can’t create their own shots. Izzo must know something I don’t know (see: he definitely does).
Kenny Goins either actually brings more to offer than we originally thought or Minnesota had an immensely flawed game plan. Offensively, Goins didn’t show much save one nice slam, but he actually provided some rim protection on offense. Minnesota shot terribly all game, and barely any of those shots came from inside the paint. So either Goins did a great job of blanketing Minnesota’s powerful big men or the Minnesota scheme led to a lot more outside shots. My heart wants to lean to the latter but my brain thinks Goins actually did some good things.
“Self-evaluation is the hardest thing,” said Goins on his struggles this season and how he fixed them Wednesday night. “I realized I was playing timid. I felt weak. It was hard, but now I made myself feel comfortable.”
Izzo noted in his post-game presser that this was the best games of Goins’ season. I mean, MSU out-rebounded Minnesota by 13 and Ward only played 13 total minutes. Goins had to be involved in that.
You can win a game in a half… sometimes. The Spartans coasted in the second half, running lineups that essentially locked down the defense and didn’t score at all. I don’t know if that’s what Izzo meant to do, as the result of the lineups were very underwhelming, but they did their job. They didn’t let the lead slip away and closed out a game against a top Big Ten team. There’s something to be said for that, but this game really seemed over by the time the first 20 minutes ticked off the game clock.