PORTLAND, OR. — It’s not how you start a game, but how you end it.
On Thursday night, in their opener at the PK80 Invitational Tournament, the Michigan State Spartans looked like a different team in the second half when compared to the first half. The Spartans took on the DePaul Blue Demons without the services of sophomore Miles Bridges, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle sustained in their last outing.
Michigan State led 10-2 early on, but allowed the Blue Demons to stay within striking distance. The teams went into the break tied at 31-all, and the Spartans were struggling on both ends of the floor.
In the second half, Matt McQuaid put the team on his back and help the Spartans put separation between themselves and the Blue Demons.
McQuaid finished the night with a career-high 20 points, on 6-of-8 shooting from three point range, and the Spartans pulled away in the second half for the 73-51 win over DePaul to open the PK80 Invitational.
Tale of Two Halves
Thursday night was a perfect example of basketball being a 40-minute game.
In the first half, the Spartans shot just 11-of-28 from the field, and while the Blue Demons didn’t shoot any better, the Spartans were lucky to be tied at the break. They got themselves into foul trouble early on, and Nick Ward picked up two early fouls and was limited to just two minutes in the opening frame.
A three pointer from Eli Cain at the buzzer tied the game at 31-all, and gave the Blue Demons a shot of momentum heading into the second half.
The second half saw the Spartans pick up the intensity on both ends of the floor. They were more active on the glass on both ends of the floor, and they out-rebounded the Blue Demons by a sizable margin, 39-24. Michigan State also recorded 17 assists on 25 made field goals over the course of the evening.
Michigan State held DePaul off the scoreboard for close to seven minutes during the second frame, allowing the Spartans to stretch their lead to double figures. McQuaid and Joshua Langford went on a 14-0 run by themselves to give the Spartans a 51-37 lead with 10:44 to play.
DePaul would get to within 12 points on a pair of occasions, but that’s as close as they would get the rest of the way.
After shooting 39.3% (11-of-28) in the first half, the Spartans shot 56.0% (14-of-25) in the second frame. They finished the game shooting 47.2% (25-of-53) from the floor, and 43.5% (10-of-23) from three point range. Michigan State held DePaul to just 25.5% (13-of-51) shooting in the process.
Matt McQuaid Puts Together a Career Night
In the absence of Bridges, head coach Tom Izzo slotted Matt McQuaid into the starting lineup against DePaul. What a decision it was, as McQuaid was the Spartans’ best player on Thursday night.
Despite banging knees on a screen play in the paint, and hobbling in pain for some time, McQuaid posted a career-high 20 points, while going 6-of-8 from three point range in the win.
Good ball movement from the Spartans led to open looks from the wing for the junior guard from Duncanville, TX, much to the delight of Bridges and his Spartans’ teammates. After his fifth trifecta of the night, which happened to be right in front of his own bench, McQuaid was in considerable pain. During the next timeout, he went to the bench with cramping in his knee.
When he returned to the lineup, he hit a sixth three-pointer just for good measure. In total, he accounted for 60% of the Spartans’ three pointers on the evening, and showcased his toughness in battling through the right knee injury.
Spartans Have Depth Across the Board
Admittedly, the Spartans were short-handed without Bridges and forward Kenny Goins in the lineup. Early on, the Spartans found themselves in foul trouble that put their depth to the test.
They passed the test with flying colours.
To close out the first half, Izzo went with a three forward lineup, with Jaren Jackson, Jr., Xavier Tillman, and Ben Carter up front. The versatility of the lineup allowed the Spartans to keep up with the Blue Demons into the half, and allowed them to pull away in the second.
Add in the fact that Connor George played considerable minutes off the bench, and Izzo rolled with ten-man rotation against DePaul. George provided a big spark off the bench, grabbing key offensive rebounds in the second half that gave the Spartans second-chance opportunities. He finished with two points and seven rebounds in the win.
Michigan State (3-1) will move onto the semi-finals of the PK80 Invitational in the Victory Bracket. They will take on the Connecticut Huskies on Friday night, who are coming off an eight-point win over the Oregon Ducks in their opener.
As for DePaul (1-3), they head to the Consolation side of the Victory Bracket. They will take on Oregon on Friday evening.
– T. Bennett