EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 10 Michigan State (22-5) defeated Rutgers (12-14), 71-60 Wednesday night at the Breslin Center. Cassius Winston led the Spartans with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 8 assists. Xavier Tillman finished with a double-double and career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds.
In their first game since Nick Ward’s hand injury against Ohio State, the Spartans struggled with getting into the post, rebounding and drawing fouls — essentially all of the things that Ward does for them.
“I think there is a great appreciation for Nick Ward,” said head coach Tom Izzo. “I think those guys realize that the ball goes in there — we missed a lot of open shots in there. I thought we didn’t play very good at all the first half.”
The Spartans were down 32-25 at halftime, shooting just 30 percent from the field. Izzo said at halftime that he thought his “best players” were not playing well.
“He got after guys (at halftime), he got after everybody,” said Winston. “We just weren’t playing hard enough, we weren’t defending well enough, weren’t making the little plays that’s going to help us get through this.”
While it took a few minutes into the second half to find a groove, the Spartans did find it.
“In general, considering what this team has been through, I thought it was a hell of a second half against a very, very tough team for us to play, especially right now,” said Izzo.
Winston, with 19 of his points in the second half, proved once again that he is one of the best point guards in college basketball.
“Cassius was sensational at times,” said Izzo. “I feel like he’s really starting to understand what he’s got to do and (he’s) a little more demonstrative on calling a play or the defensive stuff.”
With a big game coming up against Michigan, the Spartans needed this win to know that they could handle the absence of both Ward and Langford.
“Now, everybody’s a little more confident from me all the way down to Josh (Langford),” said Tillman. “The first half was something that we had to get used to, but for the second half, for us to come back and lead with a vengeance, I was really proud.”
The Spartans will face the Wolverines in Ann Arbor Sunday afternoon. Tipoff is at 3:45 p.m. on CBS.