Spartans stomp Huskers in Big Ten opener
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr. make for a dynamic inside duo when they stay out of foul trouble. The Michigan State big men showed what Big Ten opponents will have to deal with during the team’s conference opener on Sunday.
Ward equaled his season high with 22 points, and Jackson notched the third double-double of his freshman season as No. 3 Michigan State overpowered Nebraska 86-57 at the Breslin Center.
Ward also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Jackson had 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
“The game plan was just to really kill them,” Ward said. “Whether it was getting the ball inside or shooting threes or whatever.”
Michigan State (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) has won six straight, including victories over Top 10 opponents North Carolina and Notre Dame in its previous two outings. The 29-point victory still left coach Tom Izzo unsatisfied.
“All in all, I wanted to see if we handled a little success, see if we handled everybody kissing our tails, and I didn’t think the grit was there today,” Izzo said. “We weren’t aggressive defensively, and we weren’t aggressive offensively.”
The Spartans shot 47.4 percent from the field while holding the Huskers (6-3, 0-1) to a season-low 27.4 percent shooting. Michigan State outscored Nebraska 32-8 in the paint and 21-11 on second-chance points.
Ward grabbed four of the Spartans’ 13 offensive rebounds and got to the foul line often, making 10 of 13 free throws.
“It’s something we try to do every game,” Ward said. “Offensive rebounding is a big part of any game. Really, offensive rebounds can win or lose a game.”
This one was never in doubt, but Izzo found plenty of warts.
“We started out a little sloppy, didn’t execute, we weren’t setting screens and I was totally disappointed that we didn’t do the things we needed to do,” Izzo said. “We could have won by less and played better and I’d have been happier.”
Cassius Winston contributed 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists while Miles Bridges supplied 12 points in the victory.
James Palmer Jr. led Nebraska with 15 points. Evan Taylor tossed in eight points.
“Our scoring issues are how we create for others and get easier shots for our teammates,” Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles said. “It’s something we’re figuring out slowly. That needs to improve.”
The Spartans made just one of their eight 3-point attempts before halftime but still led 38-26 at the break. They used a combination of inside scoring and offensive rebounding to build the lead, outscoring the Cornhuskers 16-2 in the paint and 15-0 on second-chance points.
Michigan State’s starting frontcourt of Bridges, Ward and Jackson accounted for 30 first-half points, with Bridges and Ward contributing 12 apiece.
“They put you in a conundrum,” Miles said. “This is an excellent team. This is the best team I’ve seen them have in my six years in the league, and that includes the team that went to the Final Four. They have better depth, more length, and I think their defense is better. It’s just hard to get where you want to on them.”
Michigan State picked up right where it left off on its first second-half possession as Ward scored on a put-back. When Xavier Tillman scored on yet another offensive rebound five minutes into the half, the lead was 55-34.
The Spartans were on top by double digits the entire half.
NOTES: The Spartans are 48-10 all-time in Big Ten home openers and 32-36 in conference openers. ... Michigan State has defeated Nebraska in seven of 10 meetings since the Cornhuskers joined the conference. The Spartans lead the all-time series 15-9. ... The Cornhuskers have faced a ranked opponent in five of their past seven Big Ten openers. ... Nebraska hosts No. 12 Minnesota on Tuesday, while Michigan State plays at Rutgers the same night.