FINAL: MSU stomps Southern Utah, 88-63, to win eighth straight
Tom Izzo said before the game Saturday his plan was to feed the ball inside to Nick Ward more. That plan didn’t include the sophomore forward making his first-career three, as the No. 3 Spartans breezed past Southern Utah at the Breslin Center, 88-63.
Ward was one of four Spartans with at least 15 points, finishing with 17, as MSU (9-1 overall) extended its winning streak to eight games. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Southern Utah (6-3).
Miles Bridges scored 17 points, 6 assists and 11 rebounds. Jaren Jackson Jr. also chipped in 17 points and 13 boards. Cassius Winston shot 5-of-6 from three for 15 total points and added 5 assists.
Although MSU assisted on 24 of 28 baskets, Izzo said he thought MSU could have done more.
"I thought we played pretty well early," he said. "They made some shots and we missed a bunch of shots. We got a lead and, something uncharacteristic of us, we got a lead and we kinda just said my turn. That was the first time I’ve seen that and I told my team I was kind of disappointed for that."
Southern Utah was held to 33.3 percent from the field, despite four players reaching double figures. The Thunderbirds converted on 11-of-26 shots from three-point range, besting MSU’s 9-of-19 from behind the arc.
"Our game plan today was to put up 30 threes and try to make 15 of them," Southern Utah coach Todd Simon said. "We were just coming off a game where we did just that and we felt like we could because they’re so aggressive defensively."
MSU missed on its first four attempts from the field to start the game, but got on the board with a pair of free throws from Jackson. The Spartans took their first lead of the night on an elbow jumper from sophomore guard Joshua Langford.
Southern Utah forward Jacob Calloway hit the team’s first shot. The Thunderbirds, however, missed their next six field goal attempts.
After struggling to take the lead, a three from Bridges sparked a 13-2 run to give MSU a 24-10 lead with 9:25 until halftime.
The Thunderbirds shaved away at MSU’s lead, cutting it to single-digits multiple times, but at halftime the Spartans led the way, 42-30, behind 50 percent from the floor and 7-of-10 from three. Winston led all scorers with 9 points and made all three shots from beyond the arc.
Jadon Cohee and Dre Marin each had 7 points at the half to lead Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds made 6-of-14 shots from three and were limited to 35.5 percent shooting with five field goals from 2-point range.
Southern Utah continued to hang around through the second half. Five of the team’s first six field goals of the half landed from behind the arc. Calloway capped off a 10-2 Thunderbird run with a three to chop their deficit to five point midway through the second half. MSU was held scoreless from the field for nearly four and a half minutes in that span.
A late 16-4 MSU run, however, would be the difference. The Spartans finally found a way to pound the ball inside, opting to go to Bridges, Jackson or Ward inside the paint on four of the five field goals, the other being another three from Winston.
Winston’s fifth three of the game came with 3:40 to play and pushed MSU’s lead to 82-61.
Marin, Cohee and Calloway each scored 12 for Southern Utah. Ivan Madunic chipped in with 10 points.
MSU finished shooting 47.5 percent from the field.
The Spartans will take a week off until they travel to Detroit to play Oakland University (6-4) for the first time in Little Caesars Arena. That game will tip off at 2:30 p.m.
With five AP top-10 teams losing this week, including No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas, Izzo said there's a chance the Spartans become the new top-ranked team.
It's pressure Izzo said he wants for his team.
"We have to relish challenges like this," Jackson said. "We relish the pressure because we know in March there’s going to be a whole lot of that. A whole lot of distractions and when you have a lot of talent on a team you know you’re going to get distractions from a whole lot of angles."