Spartans commit season-low turnovers as freshmen dazzled
For the first time without fifth-year senior guard Eron Harris this season, the Spartans were once again looking for a man to step up in the wake of injury. It wasn’t until the late stages of the first half against Nebraska where MSU found its answer.
Up six with 4:43 remaining in the first half, the Spartans went on a 19-5 run to blow open a 49-31 lead at halftime — the eventual difference maker in MSU’s 88-72 win over the Cornhuskers.
During the momentum-swinging stretch, the team’s freshmen scored 15 points. Forward Miles Bridges, guard Joshua Langford and guard Cassius Winston each hit 3-pointers consecutively in the final 1:39 before halftime, Winston’s a buzzer-beating shot from halfcourt.
“I thought they outplayed us in just about every facet of the game,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said after the game. "When you look at points in the paint, fast break points and second chance points, they just dominated in those areas. I think the devastating part of the game for us, when it came to winning or losing, was that last four minutes of the first half where they went on that 19-5 run."
By the end of the game, it was the team’s freshmen who had answered the call in the absence of Harris. Both Bridges and forward Nick Ward led the team tied with 20 points each. Langford scored a career-high 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting and six free throws and five rebounds. Winston with seven points, eight assists and no turnovers.
The freshmen scored 64 of the team’s 88 points and 23 of MSU’s 29 baskets from the field. Thursday’s game was the first time two freshmen scored at least 20 since Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Jay Vincent scored 31 and 22, respectively, against Minnesota on Jan. 5, 1978.
But head coach Tom Izzo was hesitant to say the freshman class would take ownership of the team for the rest of the season.
“Are the freshmen going to take over? I mean Nick and Miles have been fairly consistent,” Izzo said. “I thought Miles played good as I told him; I didn’t think he played great. He got one rebound second half … I still need him to be more aggressive. I thought Nick missed some good shots early. Josh hit a couple of shots, but I mean 5-of-12, he’s got some work to do yet. They definitely looked more aggressive. They looked more comfortable.”
Part of MSU’s success came as the team outscored the Huskers in the paint 42-28, which Ward said was part of the game plan. MSU’s forwards also grabbed 11 of its 12 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 18 second-chance points.
“Getting the ball inside was a point of emphasis,” Ward said. “Coach really emphasized that at halftime, before the game. But I feel like the guards did really well swinging the ball and we all did well sharing the ball.”
Aside from the work inside the post, the Spartans found success sharing the ball — finishing with 18 assists and shooting 46.8 percent from the field. The team committed a season-low nine turnovers while holding the Huskers to 39 percent for the game and 26.7 percent in the first half.
With the end of the season just three games away, Winston said as long as MSU plays fundamentally sound it will carry the team come March.
“It’s just little things,” Winston said. “Josh (Langford) getting on a loose ball, or somebody making a big block then we go and make a play. All of those moments, those little details, those little things took us awhile to learn. The little plays like that can start a 12-0 run like it’s nothing.
With a quick turnaround, MSU will host No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday for Senior Day. Izzo’s reluctance to bask in the win comes as the result of the magnitude of the game ahead, as a win could put the Spartans in sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten standings.
“I should feel better about it than I do, but then again, maybe I shouldn’t because we have a big game on Sunday with a lot on the line,” Izzo said.