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Three Takeaways: MSU escapes against Oakland

Spartans hold off the Golden Grizzlies, 77-65

NCAA Basketball: Oakland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but let’s not get picky. Tom Izzo’s bunch bounced back from a deflating loss to Northeastern to beat a talented Oakland team in a game that was sloppy and riddled with fouls. They did it mostly thanks to two freshmen, so we’ll start there.

NCAA Basketball: Oakland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Cassius and Puddin’ Show

It looks like Izzo has found a maestro comfortable doing everything offensively — shooting, passing, driving — and a versatile big man with soft hands to pair with him.

Right now, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are the best players on the team, by a pretty wide margin. Redundant, perhaps, but the importance of the development really cannot be overstated.

Winston followed up a career high scoring game with another strong line (9 pts, 8 assists, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers) that included several next-level dishes. An important byproduct of Winston’s play is the relegation of Tum Tum Nairn to a more fitting bench role (he played only 11 minutes).

Ward must’ve been jealous because he came to ball, scoring a career-high 25 with 9 rebounds and a block. He can be a bit of a black hole in the post, but having a guy who can get you two in the paint more often than not is a major resource for a still-developing team.

Add in a healthy Miles Bridges and you’ve got an exciting young trio to build around.

2. Wanted: Wing Help

MSU needs the combination of Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford and Alvin Ellis to create a semi-efficient and functional rotation. In this one, they kinda got that.

Harris bounced back from his late-game benching with a strong defensive performance and 15 points. Ellis took some of Langford’s minutes (25 to 15) and responded with 8 points and a couple three’s, but did have some patented turnovers that make you marvel at Izzo’s self-control.

McQuaid’s struggles continued, however, especially from deep, where he went only 1-for-5. He’s only shooting 35% from three on the year — down from almost 41% in 2015 — and for a guy who is pretty one-dimensional and supposed to be a lights out shooter, that’s concerning.

With all the injuries, there isn’t much choice but to play him, but if others progress it’ll be hard to find minutes for a three-point specialist who doesn’t hit many three’s.

3. Free Throw Woes

This officiating crew must have watched the tape of last year’s whistle-palooza because they were really bad. A whopping 53 fouls were called, many of them of the touch variety, which led to a free throw parade and, once again, MSU was unable to capitalize.

As a team, the Spartans were 24-of-37 (64.9%), which kept them from putting Oakland away. This has already hurt them and will continue to do so if they can’t get at least a little better.