It was tied at halftime but a second half surge led the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans past DePaul, 73-51, in the PK80 opener late on Thanksgiving night.
The Spartans were without All-American Miles Bridges, who sprained his ankle this past Sunday against Stony Brook, but guys like junior guard Matt McQuaid and freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. picked up the slack. All but one of the Spartans’ starters reached double-digits in scoring, with a 14-to-2 run busting this one open in the second half.
For those of you who didn’t stay up to watch this game, here are a few takeaways from the Spartans’ victory.
What We Learned
1. Spartans are solid but nothing special without Bridges.
The 2017-’18 Michigan State Spartans got their first taste of life without Miles Bridges on Thursday, and it’s evident he’s needed for this team to truly be special.
Michigan State eventually won this game by double-digits but it wasn’t until halfway through the second half when the Spartans finally pulled away. Without Bridges to stretch the defense, points were hard to come by for most of the night.
The Spartans shot an impressive 43 percent from outside the arc, but at times in the first half it seemed like that’s all Michigan State was able to do. And remember, this isn’t a great DePaul team either -- the Blue Demons were picked to finish last in the Big East and lost to Illinois by nine points the other day.
I believe Michigan State is still a top three team in the Big Ten without Bridges. Possibly the best team in league, but if he were to be out for a long term period of time I don’t think the Spartans would contend for a National Championship. This team is still very deep when he is sidelined, but it’s a good thing he’ll be returning soon.
2. McQuaid shows potential.
Finally, we saw McQuaid breakout of his early season slump and play up to his potential. McQuaid was 6-for-8 on three-pointers on Thursday and led the Spartans in scoring with a career-high 20 points.
After scoring a combined 16 points in the first three games this year, finally we got a great shooting performance from McQuaid. This game is evidence that when McQuaid is on, he can be one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and plays a vital role on this team.
With Bridges out, it was huge for Michigan State to get this kind of production from McQuaid. I’ve been saying all offseason that McQuaid -- and Josh Langford -- is the key ingredient for the Spartans becoming elite. He has proven in the past he can be that cutthroat three-point shooter, but just hasn’t been consistent on a day-to-day basis. Let’s see if this performance will jump start his season.
3. Turnovers going to be a problem all year.
The Spartans’ biggest issue a year ago appears to be a problem again this year -- turnovers.
Michigan State turned the ball over 15 times on Thursday night, which raises the Spartans average to 16.75 turnovers per game. That is terrible. It’s truly inexcusable for a team this talented to be giving away that many possessions.
This many turnovers might not sting the Spartans against DePaul, Stony Brook and North Florida, but it will against better teams -- just like how it did against No. 1 Duke last week. Last year you could point to it being a young team as maybe why there were so many turnovers. This year’s team is older, though, and I don’t see how there is any real excuse for this. It has only been four games, but based on what we saw last year I’m expecting this to again be a season-long issue.
Maybe this feels a little negative for a 20-plus point victory, but, ultimately, this game shouldn’t have been close. A healthy Michigan State team would/should beat this bottom end Big East team by 30-40 points. That’s what a dominant team would do.
Michigan State made some mistakes and let the Blue Demons hang around into the second half. The Spartans eventually pulled away based on their depth and by playing sharper ball. This is still a decent win since it was away from home and ended up being convincing. Friday’s game against UConn will be a tougher test, especially if Bridges remains sidelined.