Hoops in the state of Michigan haven't been too good as of late.
With the 3-16 Pistons stinking up the NBA and the Michigan Wolverines losing a 72-70 stunner to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, basketball fans in the Mitten State were in need of a pick-me-up.
And on Saturday, coming off a set of back-to-back losses of their own, the No. 19 Michigan State Spartans (6-3) did their best to reverse this trend against the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions (1-7).
The Spartans dominated the Golden Lions from the very get-go of Saturday’s contest, taking a commanding 54-20 lead into the half, and eventually going on to win the game 85-52.
“It feels good,” MSU forward Gavin Schilling said. “Especially coming after two losses. We’re not really used to losing two times in a row. So just getting that win builds up the momentum moving forward.”
Travis Trice and Matt Costello led the way in scoring with 15 a piece, as 11 Spartans in total got into the scoring action Saturday afternoon - including five in double figures. But without a doubt the most impressive stat category for the Spartans against the Lions was their assist tally.
MSU’s ball movement was incredible for a good portion of the game, as they finished with 27 assists on 30 made field goals - a striking contrast from their loss to Kansas a week ago, where MSU finished with just five assists on 19 buckets.
“The unselfishness was incredible,” MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo said of the way his team played in the first half. “That’s the way we need to play.”
However, after 18 assists on 19 field goals in the first half, it appeared the Spartans grew complacent in playing so far in front. What was once a 37-point lead was eventually dwindled to just a 25-point advantage at one point in the second half.
But for Izzo and the rest of his Michigan State basketball team, they didn’t have to look far to find the overriding culprit in their ever shrinking lead: turnovers.
The Spartans finished with 18 of them against the Lions - 13 of which coming in the second half.
“I thought we did such a good job passing for assists in the first half that we had to pass the ball to (UAPB) in the second half,” Izzo said.
MSU big man Matt Costello also sensed the dip in play of his team in the second 20 minutes of action.
“We did a really good job (moving the ball) in the first half but the second half we sucked,” Costello said. “It starts in the locker room. We came in and we were all happy, joking around, laughing ... We came out in the second half and it showed. People aren’t playing as well and we just got to do better.”
Up next for the MSU basketball team, they’ll take on the challenge of final exams week before squaring off in a contest against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies on Dec. 14.
“We just have to stick together and play together and not really focus on any outside distractions,” Schilling said. “And just focus on winning.”