No. 11 Michigan State men’s basketball made easy work of Tennessee Tech Sunday night, winning 101-33. Junior forward Nick Ward returned from a right ankle sprain he suffered last Wednesday versus Louisiana-Monroe, and led the Spartans in scoring with 23 points.
MSU coach Tom Izzo had bemoaned the Spartans’ inability to put together a full 40 minutes, but they answered that challenge Sunday night. MSU came out of the gates hot, opening on a 23-9 run, and did not look back from there.
For a timespan stretching the first and second halves, MSU scored 30 unanswered points, holding Tennessee Tech scoreless for 8:36 of game time. This stretch included the Spartans making their first eight shots of the second half.
"This team is dangerous," junior point guard Cassius Winston said. "We do a good job sitting on the defensive end, and getting on the break, when we’re hitting shots like that, we’re a hard team to play against."
In contrast to Wednesday night’s tight first half affair with Louisiana-Monroe, the Spartans completely dominated the first half Sunday night. They held the Golden Eagles to 6-21 shooting en route to a 42-14 halftime lead.
The game plan for the Spartans appeared to be to get the ball inside, with Ward both scoring and being tasked with creating for others as well.
Ward got the ball early and often, perhaps looking to make up for lost time. He played with a renewed energy Sunday night, shooting 10-12 from the field against Tennessee Tech’s overmatched big men. He said his ankle felt better by Friday afternoon after suffering the injury Wednesday night.
"I was just working as hard as I can," Ward said. "I just ran my lanes, posted deep, and just did what I could for my team to win."
Tennessee Tech’s Garrett Golday and Miciah Henry led their team in scoring with six points each, as the Golden Eagles fell to 0-5 on the season. Four of their losses have come on the road, including Friday night’s 108-58 loss to No. 7 North Carolina.
The bad first-half three-point shooting from Wednesday for the Spartans continued into the first half of Sunday's game, as they made only 5 of 20 attempts from beyond the arc, three of the makes coming from Winston. The improvement after halftime in this department was dramatic, with the Spartans shooting 69 percent from downtown.
“The only negative of the night, to me, was the number of wide-open threes we missed the first half,” Izzo said. “I told our guys, I thought we were shooting them three or four feet behind the three-point line and once we started getting up to that line and getting a few inside-out passes, I thought we knocked down some big threes in the second half."
Three Spartans scored in double figures, junior guard Joshua Langford scored 16 to go along with Winston’s 19 and Ward’s 23. Twelve Spartans scored on the night.
"I really think we finished better tonight, and I feel a little bit better about where we’re at," Izzo said.
A big point of emphasis for MSU has been protecting the ball, and they did a much better job of that Sunday night, only turning it over eight times.
"I thought we went into the game with three or four goals: improve defensively, not foul the jump shooter, not turn the ball over, and get a little better ball movement," Izzo said. "I thought at times we accomplished all of them, shame at the end we had two turnovers and all of a sudden it was seven or eight, couple foolish ones at the end, but for the most part, we played pretty good on that."
The 68-point margin of victory is the largest in Tom Izzo’s tenure as head coach at MSU, and ties the Breslin Center record of a December 1992 121-53 victory over Morehead State.
MSU heads to Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena, starting Thanksgiving night at 10 p.m. against No. 20 UCLA. The Spartans will finish off the tournament the following afternoon against either No. 7 North Carolina or Texas.