Hosting a 6:30 tip, No. 14 Michigan State (16-5, 8-2 Big Ten) compounded this abnormality with another, jumping out to a quick 16-2 lead in a 79-50 win over Northwestern (6-14, 1-9 Big Ten).
Coach Tom Izzo placed heavy emphasis on starting fast in the preceding days.
This start was as close to perfect as the Spartans could hope for. MSU’s budding power forward and freshman Malik Hall looked the part, opening the game’s scoring and finsihing an alley oop en route to recording six of the Spartans’ first nine points. Junior forward Xavier Tillman calmly swished an open three. Sophomore forward Gabe Brown missed his first two shot attempts but responded with a put-back dunk.
Then came Northwestern’s 13-2 run. A Miller Kopp three cut MSU’s lead to as close as three. Sophomore guard Foster Loyer was instrumental in maintaining the Spartans’ fragile lead in a subpar half by senior guard Cassius Winston, making two threes on two shot attempts and assisting one of Winston’s.
"Cassius (Winston) just has to play better," Izzos said. "There's nothing wrong with missing shots and that, but some of those turnovers are not like him."
Loyer remained productive in the latter period to finish with 12 points and four assists, tying Tillman as the Spartans’ second-leading scorer.
Izzo noted that the sophomore guard is "starting to play his role."
Perhaps no points were bigger than senior forward Kyle Ahrens’ — three that came in the final minute of the half to stretch MSU’s lead back to double digits at 33-22.
"I think you can see he just gives us something," Izzo said. "He gives us experience. He gives us a guy that can knock down shots. He gives us some toughness. We had a little bit of a problem today when we played the two small guards because they played two big yards. He can cover those kinds of guys."
But before the Spartans returned to their early first half form and leading 46-26, Izzo committed a technical foul. Freshman forward Julius Marble dunked the ball on the fast break a few possessions later, but was also called for a technical for hanging on the rim.
The passive Breslin gallery came alive right around then, as MSU slapped the floor on the defensive end between raining in threes on the offensive end. All of the sudden the Spartans led 57-30 and didn’t look back.
Winston shook off his 2-for-7 first half and added a 6-0 run of his own, stretching the lead to 72-37 to finish with a game-high 18 points.
Michigan State will travel to Madison to battle Wisconsin Saturday, Feb. 1 at 1 p.m.