Goran Suton picked up exactly where he left off, scoring 16 points and nearly outscoring North Carolina State alone in the first half, helping No.13 Michigan State dominate the Wolfpack from the opening tip 81-58.
After grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds and 15 points in MSU’s last game against Oakland, Suton notched another double-double on Wednesday night, with 16 points and 12 rebounds and also adding four steals.
“This was our best game of the season tonight,” said coach Tom Izzo. “UCLA was the best team we have played so far; we were up ten in that game but couldn’t close. Tonight we did a good job, and it was our best game of the season.”
MSU (5-1) improves to 5-3 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and is the only Big Ten team to have a winning record in the ACC-dominated event.
After NC State (4-2) scored the first basket of the game, Suton took over with the next four, forcing the Wolfpack to take an early timeout.
It didn’t get much better for NC State, as they were stuck on seven points for over five minutes in the first half.
MSU’s defense never let the Wolfpack set up their plays, forcing them to take bad shots and turn the ball over.
After leading at one point 39-16 in the first half, MSU took a 41-19 lead into halftime looking dominant.
“We came out and delivered a good punch early, our crowd was going to carry us the rest of the way and they did,” said guard Travis Walton. “I think we created an identity for us a little bit, with our running, our rebounding, defending, our break looked great, people knocking shots down, people not in your face as much, so if we do that we can do great things.”
The second half was much of the same, despite Suton being held scoreless in the half, MSU led by as many as 32 points, with NC State making a run late to bring the final score closer.
Drew Neitzel scored 17 points and had five assists and Raymar Morgan added 15 points as the Spartans took nearly 20 more shots than NC State.
MSU benefited from bad shooting by NC State as well as an overwhelming 42-31 rebounding edge that seemed much closer on paper.
NC State’s leading scorer, freshman J.J. Hickson, scored 21 points after being held to just five points in the first half. Farnold Degand had 11 points.
After seeing one of the nation’s top freshmen last week in UCLA’s Kevin Love, MSU came in with a similar defensive strategy against Hickson.
“Their guards were hanging around, and they wouldn’t cut through with our guards,” said NC State coach Sidney Lowe. “When (Hickson) would make the move, they would dig down and strip the ball from him.”
“We played against a very good ball club. They were aggressive; they ran the floor well on us. We ran into a team that was clicking tonight, and they are certainly capable of doing that,” added Lowe.
A sign of MSU playing well is when they don’t turn the ball over, which is exactly what happened on Wednesday night. MSU had only three turnovers in the first half and ten on the night, an improvement from their average of nearly 17 turnovers per game.
“I thought the difference in the game was the turnovers and the defense, and that’s the way it should be, it helps you score points and helps you get the job done,” said Izzo.
Since the Big Ten/ACC Challenge debuted in 1999, the ACC has won the overall series in every year, but MSU represents the Big Ten conference as the only school in the conference with a winning record.
Next up for the Spartans is Jacksonville on Saturday night at the Breslin Center (7pm ET Big Ten Network).