EditorsNote: Minor changes (mostly punctuation); tweaks in second and fourth grafs
Sixth-ranked Michigan State entered Sunday’s game at Penn State as one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
And the Spartans leaned on that defense heavily, overcoming sloppy offense to beat the Nittany Lions 71-56 in University Park, Pa. for their 10th straight victory.
Nick Ward scored 16 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to lead Michigan State (15-2, 6-0 Big Ten). But the rest of the offense wasn’t as reliable.
Cassius Winston struggled for much of the game, turning it over seven times. He did score 11 points and hand out six assists. Matt McQuaid added 15 points, as the Spartans were without Joshua Langford for the fourth straight game as well as Kyle Ahrens, who stayed back in East Lansing with a back sprain.
Lamar Stevens scored 20 to lead Penn State (7-10, 0-6) while Mike Watkins, Myles Dread and Josh Reaves each added 11 points for the Nittany Lions. Penn State was just 22 for 60 (.367) from the field and 5 for 22 (.227) on 3-pointers.
Michigan State entered the game with the top field-goal percentage defense in the Big Ten, and the first half provided plenty of evidence why the Spartans hold teams to 37 percent shooting from the field.
The Nittany Lions rarely got the ball on the block, often settling for deep 3-pointers. They made just 3 of 13 3-point shots and were only 10 for 32 overall as the Spartans pushed the lead to 18 when an Aaron Henry dunk put them up 37-19 with four minutes to go in the half.
The teams were tied 10-10 more than five minutes into the game before the Spartans went on an 18-4 run that spanned more than seven minutes. Much of it was due to Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins dominating the glass. Michigan State grabbed nine offensive rebounds and got nine second-chance points.
Ward scored 12 and pulled down nine rebounds in 13 first-half minutes, while Tillman had six rebounds and Goins five as Michigan State led 40-24 at halftime.
Penn State opened the second half chipping away at the deficit, trimming it to 43-33 after a Watkins jumper with 14:38 to play. The Nittany Lions took advantage of Ward and Winston both struggling with foul trouble in the stretch, but McQuaid responded with two straight 3-pointers to give the Spartans a 49-33 lead with 13:14 left in the game.
The Spartans continued to slowly pull away, and after back-to-back triples from Winston and McQuaid gave them a 63-42 lead with 6:40 to play, the game was effectively over. It was the fourth straight win at Penn State for Michigan State.
Henry, who scored seven points while playing a career-high 25 minutes, earned his first career start with Langford and Ahrens out of the lineup. Langford missed his fourth straight game with an ankle injury, while Ahrens didn’t make the trip after aggravating a back injury in Tuesday’s win over Purdue. Ahrens had started three games in place of Langford and started four games earlier in the season when McQuaid was out with a deep thigh bruise.
—Field Level Media