No. 2 Michigan State steamrolls Savannah State
EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 2 Michigan State certainly had one reason to be nervous about Savannah State despite its 3-11 record going into their meeting on Sunday.
For all its success so far this season, Michigan State at times has struggled to defend the 3-point shot, and seeing a Savannah State team that chucks the ball up from 3-point range early and often created some fears for the Spartans.
Sure enough, Savannah State got hot from the outside in the first half and was only down a point as halftime neared in front of what became a more nervous than usual home crowd on hand for the New Year’s Eve matinee.
But Michigan State alleviated fears from there, ending the first half on a 14-2 run in the final 4:22 to gain some separation and then dominated the second half to secure a 108-52 win over Savannah State in the final nonconference game of the regular season for the Spartans.
Michigan State (14-1) won its 13th straight game since its only loss of the season to Duke on Nov. 14.
“We still have a lot of sophomores and freshmen playing, and we played like it for the first half,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Halftime was a teaching moment.”
Thanks to eight 3-pointers in the first half, Savannah State led 20-18 with 11:17 remaining in the first half and was only down 37-36 with 4:22 left in the first half.
Savannah State entered the game leading the country in 3-point attempts with 563 and was third nationally with an average of 11.9 shots made per game from behind the 3-point line through 14 games.
“It’s kind of hard for those guys to get up for Savannah State and I think that’s the only advantage we had in this game,” Savannah State head coach Horace Broadnax said. “Sometimes you take smaller teams lightly.”
But for the rest of the first half, Michigan State clamped down defensively and got into a better rhythm in its half-court sets, taking a 51-38 lead at halftime.
Michigan State’s momentum continued in the second half, with the Spartans taking a 76-49 lead with 9:23 left and a 40-point lead at 92-52 with 5:55 remaining.
Sophomore center Nick Ward scored 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting from the field and added 10 rebounds, sophomore forward Miles Bridges had 19 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, sophomore guard Cassius Winston scored 16 points and had a career-high 13 assists, and junior guard Matt McQuaid added 14 points to lead the offensive onslaught for the Spartans.
“That was a funny team to play,” Izzo said of Savannah State. “They shoot 3s from everywhere.”
Michigan State’s nonconference schedule was a success despite the loss to Duke.
The Spartans posted lopsided wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame to put on their resume, and with Villanova’s loss to Butler on Saturday, odds are good that Michigan State will start the New Year ranked No. 1.
Michigan State now turns its attention to the resumption conference play attempting to win its first outright Big Ten title since 2009. Michigan State’s last conference title in 2012 was shared with Ohio State and Michigan.
The Spartans will host Maryland on Thursday and are already 2-0 in conference play after a home win over Nebraska on Dec. 3 and a win at Rutgers on Dec. 5.
“I’m trying to figure out where my team is a little bit just because of these last three or four games,” Izzo said, referring to inferior opponents. “Now we will know because this week things will change a little bit. We are looking forward to it.”
Savannah State dropped to 3-12, although the game against Michigan State was the sixth time already this season the Tigers have played a ranked opponent.
Junior guard Dexter McClanahan had 14 points to lead Savannah State.
Asked how valuable the experience of playing another ranked team like Michigan State was, Broadnax joked that it was “six-figures valuable” before going on to say it should prepare his team better for conference play.
“We just ran out of gas,” Broadnax said. “I’ll have to take a moral victory. The guys played well in the first half.”