No. 11 Michigan State (4-1) won their opening game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational late Thursday night at the Orleans Arena, defeating No. 17 UCLA (4-1), 87-67. It was an unending first-half barrage of threes for the Spartans, shooting 10-17 from behind the arc in the first half, and 13-24 overall.
Junior point guard Cassius Winston led MSU with 19 points and seven assists, appearing in total control throughout.
Five different Spartans hit from behind the arc in their dominant first half, tearing apart UCLA’s zone defense. MSU led 51-26 at the break.
While MSU was slightly favored, not many were predicting the 40-minute display seen Thursday night. This team struggled in the first half against Louisiana-Monroe a couple of games back, but they took it to the Bruins early and often, first running past them before sitting back and assaulting the basket from long range.
Junior forward Nick Ward came out of the gate hot, running ahead of UCLA’s 7’1” freshman center Moses Brown for two early uncontested buckets in transition. Ward scored six points before the first media timeout.
The strong team defense, coupled with the transition offense of Winston, led the Spartans to a 12-0 run midway through the first half. Michigan State held the Bruins to 3-19 shooting during the stretch that staked them to a 21-7 lead.
UCLA switched to a 2-2-1 press dropping into a 2-3 zone, perhaps looking to slow down the Spartans’ transition offense. This had some success, forcing two quick turnovers, before the MSU offense began to be patient and work for better looks.
Then came the threes. Junior guard Joshua Langford knocked down three triples during this stretch, when the Spartan dominance was confirmed.
Winston’s brilliance in the first half was undeniable- shooting 6-for-9 from the field, hitting three times from behind the arc, and dishing out six assists in 17 minutes of first-half action.
In the second half, UCLA came out with a renewed energy, not allowing the Spartans to attack the basket with the same efficiency as before. A combination of excellent defense at the rim and sloppy MSU turnovers allowed the Bruins to make inroads, cutting the deficit to 17 around the 12-minute mark.
However, MSU was able to restore order with another couple of big three-pointers, including the re-awakening of senior guard Matt McQuaid. The team captain and vaunted shooter came in shooting just 28.6 percent from three on the young campaign. Thursday night, he made 3 of 5 and received all of the meaningful backup point guard minutes, scoring 11.
Indianapolis native sophomore guard Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 15 points, 12 of them coming after halftime, when the game had been effectively decided.
In all, four Spartans scored in double figures- Winston with 19, Ward with 16, and Langford with 14 in addition to McQuaid’s 11.
MSU needs sleep on a Las Vegas Thanksgiving night, as they head back to the Orleans Arena Friday afternoon to face Texas, who defeated No. 7 North Carolina earlier Thursday, in the championship of the Invitational. Tip-off will come at 6:30 p.m in East Lansing, but 3:30 p.m Las Vegas time.