In the absence of star senior guard Cassius Winston, No. 14 Michigan State (10-3) won 95-62 in their final non-conference against Western Michigan (7-6).
The Spartans played without the reigning Big Ten player of the year for the first time in his career, as he sat out with a bone bruise in his left knee.
In his place, sophomore guard Foster Loyer got his first career start and redshirt sophomore walk-on guard Jack Hoiberg would add meaningful minutes to fill the hole. Both would have career nights.
“I wouldn't say we went into the game thinking 'I gotta fill Cassius' spot, or me and Jack have to fill Cassius' spot', but what I think our team did such a good job of is just filling that void as a whole," Loyer said. "Everyone elevating their game and making up for it, because Cassius being the player he is, no matter how well you play you can't replace him. I think it's important for us moving forward to just continue playing well together and getting better each and every day."
Just 12 seconds into the game Loyer made his presence felt, drilling a three in the Spartans' first possession. Loyer produced a team-high and career-best 16 points from the starting spot on 5-7 shooting and a career-best six assists.
Hoiberg also finished with a career-best six assists.
But Winston was missed. The Spartans trailed 14-8 early in the game, as they couldn’t get any offense going, especially in transition.
The Spartans would find their legs at the 13:49 mark in the first period, going on a 25-0 run to regain the lead and didn’t look back for the rest of the game, outscoring the Broncos 40-10 through the rest of the half.
During the run, freshman Rocket Watts saw his first minutes since a Dec. 3 loss to Duke, and scored five straight points once he checked in.
Watts finished his return with nine points and five assists, running as the point guard for a majority of the second half.
The Spartans shot 49.2% from the field and only turned the ball over nine times through the game.
With one star out, Michigan State’s two others stepped up. Junior forward Xavier Tillman and sophomore forward Aaron Henry helped the Spartans on the court and from the leadership standpoint.
“(I was) being more vocal on the offensive and defensive end, helping guide the guys to where they need to be," Tillman said. "Then also, staying confident and staying aggressive so the other guys knew they could be confident and aggressive as well in their game. Defensively, playing as much help defense as I can to motivate our guys and to set an example for our guys on how they should be playing defense."
Henry and Tillman both scored 15 points. Tillman completed the double-double with 11 rebounds.
The victory came as a platoon effort on the offense side, as the Spartans moved the ball well, logging 28 assists and scoring from a plethora of outlets.
"We did a good job, for the most part, tonight of understanding that we're not playing just for tonight's game, but we're playing to get better as team, we're playing to gel as a team," Loyer said. "When that Big Ten season comes, now that it's here, we're really producing on all levels."
The Spartans will return to Big Ten play with Illinois Thursday, Jan. 2.