EAST LANSING, Mich. — Ever since their loss at the 2017 Champions Classic to the Duke Blue Devils, the Michigan State Spartans have been on some kind of roll.
Since their loss back on November 14th, the Spartans entered Saturday riding a seven game winning streak. All of their wins have come by double digits, with their closest game coming on December 5th against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Michigan State beat the Scarlet Knights by 10.
Inside the Breslin Center on Saturday, the Spartans welcomed the Southern Utah Thunderbirds to town, and both teams were looking to continue their winning streaks. Southern Utah came into the day riding a three-game winning streak of their own, and while they were taking on the third-ranked team in the country, they left it all on the court and made things interesting in the second half.
After the Spartans took a 12-point lead at the break, the Thunderbirds managed to get within five points on a pair of occasions before the midway point of the second half. However, the Spartans were too much to handle, and the home side pulled away down the stretch for the 88-63 win over Southern Utah.
Michigan State had four starters score in double figures in the win. Nick Ward, Miles Bridges, and Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 17 points apiece, while Cassius Winston added 15 points in the win.
Bridges added 11 rebounds and six assists, while Jackson added 13 boards and five blocks for double-double performances.
The trio of Jacob Calloway, Jadon Cohee, and Dre Marin had 12 points apiece to pace the offensive attack for the Thunderbirds.
Southern Utah opened the scoring with a three from Calloway in the opening minute, and they held a lead for over three minutes to open the game.
Michigan State started to find their groove, and they quickly took control of the opening frame. A three ball from Ward with under two minutes to play in the half stretched the lead for the Spartans to 15 points, and they took a 42-30 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, the Thunderbirds looked to cut into the deficit. Michigan State kept Southern Utah at a safe distance out of the gate, but the visitors kept chipping away at the lead, thanks in large part to strong shooting from three point range.
With 12:21 to play, Calloway hit a three pointer to bring the Thunderbirds to within five points, at 56-51. Bridges and Marin traded a pair of free throws shortly thereafter, keeping the deficit at five points as the midway point of the half approached.
That would be as close as Southern Utah would get, as Bridges answered Marin’s free throws with four straight points to quickly push the lead back to nine points, at 62-53.
After Brandon Better got a layup to fall with 8:08 to play for Southern Utah, cutting the deficit down to 66-58, Michigan State took over. The Spartans closed the game on a 22-5 run over the final eight-plus minutes, deflating any hope of a comeback for Southern Utah.
When all was said and done, the Spartans extended their winning streak to eight games with an 88-63 victory over a tough Southern Utah squad that made them sweat early in the second frame.
As a team, Michigan State shot 47.5% from the field, and 47.4% from three point range in the win. They held the Thunderbirds to 32.3% shooting from the floor, but Southern Utah did shoot 42.3% from three point range (11-of-26).
In typical Michigan State fashion, the Spartans won the rebounding battle, out-rebounding the Thunderbirds by a 49-34 margin. The Spartans also had 24 assists on 28 made field goals.
With the win, coupled with losses by both Duke and the Kansas Jayhawks this week, Michigan State (8-1) could very well be the top-ranked team in the nation when the new AP Poll is released on Monday. The Spartans have a week off before their next contest, which falls on December 16th against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies inside Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
The loss brings an end to the three game winning streak for Southern Utah (5-4). Like the Spartans, the Thunderbirds have a week off before their next contest. They return home to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas on December 16th.
– T. Bennett