PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Last season, Tom Izzo wanted to leave Nick Ward in New Jersey after a poor game against Rutgers.
Friday night, Michigan State’s coach and the rest of the Spartans were singing Ward’s praises.
Cassius Winston scored 22 points and Ward added 20 to lead No. 9 Michigan State past Rutgers 78-69 in the Big Ten opener Friday night.
“He’s just matured,” Winston said of Ward. “He’s grown mentally and that’s helping his game a lot, so he was able to take his time passing the ball so teams can’t really double team him like that. He’s making good decisions with the basketball, so once you can’t double him, it’s hard to guard him.”
Last year Ward only had three points in 11 minutes, spending most of the game on the bench.
Ward has selective amnesia of that night, with a deadpanned “nothing,” when asked what he remembers from that game.
“The only thing that was on my mind from last year was that I’m not sitting right there (on the bench),” Ward said.
After a back-and-forth first half, where Rutgers led much of the first 10 minutes, Winston hit a 3-pointer to give Michigan State (5-2) the 39-37 lead over Rutgers (5-2) at the break.
Rutgers would open the second half with a 3-pointer by Peter Kiss from the top of the arc to retake the lead, but a quick 6-0 run from Michigan State caused Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell to call timeout down 45-40 with 17:54 to go. The deficit would eventually balloon to 13.
“I don’t know if there was a huge difference between the first and second half,” Baker said. “We just came up a little short.”
The Scarlet Knights cut it to seven after Shaquille Doorson hit a pair of free throws and had a put-back dunk to cap off a 6-0 run by Rutgers. Issa Thiam’s 3-pointer made it 63-57 with 5:17 to go, but that’s the closest Rutgers would come.
Eugene Omoruyi led Rutgers with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Michigan State: The Spartans are back to their winning ways after an overtime loss at Louisville ended a five-game winning streak. The game in Piscataway is one of five road games in a two-week span for Michigan State.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have rebounded from their only loss of the year with three straight victories, but are in the midst of a tough three-game stretch vs. teams in the Top 25 or receiving votes in six days.
Michigan State is now 8-0 vs. Rutgers in a series dating back to 1970. However, Rutgers just recently joined the Big Ten, so the two have played each other six times in the last four years.
Izzo did not have an update on the injured Matt McQuaid, who did not travel for the second straight game due to a thigh bruise.
“There’s no secret. He’s day-to-day and I’ll find out more tomorrow,” Izzo said. “If I was a betting man I’d really question it for Monday if he’s going to come back from that (game at Iowa).”
After a loss at Louisville, Michigan State needed a win if they have any hope of staying in the Top 10.