EAST LANSING — No Joshua Langford, no problem.
The starting guard sat out with an ankle injury as No. 8 Michigan State (12-2, 3-0 Big Ten) beat Northwestern (9-5, 0-3 Big Ten), 81-55 to win its seventh-straight game.
The Spartans were led by their frontcourt: Nick Ward finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds; Xavier Tillman tied a career-high 14 points coming off the bench.
A few minutes into the first half was when the Spartans took off and ran what was a close score up to a 20-point halftime lead. Ward and Tillman combined for 31 points on 13-18 shooting in the first half.
“We just knew that Pardon was a really good big,” said Tillman. “He’s averaging 14 and 10 or something like that, so we just took the challenge that we were gonna get on him and not let him get the shots he usually gets.”
Northwestern decided to focus on guarding the perimeter in the first half, which led to a lot of easy baskets for Ward and Tillman.
“Their ability to get the ball inside, it was a huge point of emphasis for us,” said Wildcats’ head coach Chris Collins. “But in that first half I just thought they did a great job of getting really deep position, being able to establish the paint whether it was with layups, with the post-ups or in transition.”
Three other players scored in double-figures for the Spartans: Cassius Winston tallied his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 assists, Kyle Ahrens had 11 points and Matt McQuaid finished with 10 points.
“We’re unselfish,” said Tillman. “Coach likes to make sure everybody eats, everybody gets their shots. So Nick had 21 at halftime, so he’s like, ‘Ok it’s Cassius’ turn.’ He wants everybody to have good games, not just one single player.”
Despite a blow-out final score, Izzo made sure to give credit to what he knows the Wildcats have been and can be, and gave some well-deserved praise to his own team.
“That wasn’t the Northwestern team I’ve seen,” said Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo. “But you know, I thought there was about a 16-minute point in the first half that Michigan State played as good as its played this year.”
As the Spartans are officially back to Big Ten play, their next five of seven games will be on the road.
“It’s going to be a tough conference,” said Winston. “That team was pretty good, they played some pretty good teams, it’s going to be tough getting games on the road. You got to take care of home court, of course.”
Next up: Saturday at Ohio State. Tipoff is set for noon on FOX.