Michigan State’s coaches and players insisted they wouldn’t look past McNeese State to its matchup with Kentucky looming and it certainly looked that way Friday night.
The Spartans used a series of dominant runs to roll to a 98-56 win at Breslin Center.
Coach Tom Izzo praised his team for accomplishing many of the goals they entered the game with, including better dribble-penetration and rebounding.
”There are still a lot of good things,” Izzo said. “It’s hard to maintain when you’re up by that many points.”
The Spartans, who used a 35-5 run from late first half into the second, allowed McNeese to go on an 11-4 run midway through the second.
After switching back to a smaller lineup to match up better with the Cowboys, MSU came right back with an 11-0 run.
“I think we did sustain it for a little bit longer,” senior Adreian Payne said, “but we still had a mental lapse as you could see in the game when we start turning the ball over and we needed to just slow it down and gather ourselves. I think that’s something that we still need to work on.”
The Spartans turned the ball over 15 times Friday, which Izzo noted was the worst thing about the performance – and an objective left unfulfilled.
”We wanted to not turn the ball over, I thought that was the worst thing we did all night,” Izzo said. “Our bigs didn’t go after it and our guards kind of laid it up there.”
Gary Harris led the Spartans with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, to go with 10 rebounds.
“I really didn’t crash that boards that much last year, my freshman year,” he said. “I really tried to put a big emphasis on being more of a total, all-around player and crashing the boards defensively and offensively.”
Harris also had six assists, part of a team total of 32 on 42 made field goals.
“I feel like we did a great job of sharing the ball (Friday night),” Harris said. "We got a lot of people involved and a lot of our shots we made were assisted. That’s good. Everybody is sharing the ball and that really gets our team going.”
The Spartans also got double-doubles from Payne (10 points and 10 rebounds) and Branden Dawson (12 and 12). Travis Trice chipped in 11 points and a career-high eight assists.
”When you get three guys with a double-double, when you get 32 assists on 42 baskets, when you get five or six guys in double figures and still not playing anybody over 25-25 minutes, I think there’s a lot of positives,” Izzo said.
Travis Trice chipped in 11 points and a career-high eight assists.
With the resounding opening win under their belt, the Spartans turn their focus ahead to Tuesday in Chicago and a meeting with No. 1 Kentucky.
“We faced a phenomenal basketball team (Friday night),” McNeese State coach Dave Simmons said. “I’m looking forward to watching the game on Tuesday.”