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What We Learned: Michigan State Spartans 91, Maryland Terrapins 61

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What did we learn from Thursday night’s game?

NCAA Basketball: Cleveland State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans continued their tear by falling just nine points short from their fifth straight 100 point game. Four starters finished in double digits as the Spartans cruised to a 30 point victory over the Maryland Terrapins for their 13th straight victory and improved to 3-0 in conference play.

In contrast, Maryland struggled to sustain consistent offense, finishing the game shooting 38 percent from the field and did not have the size to matchup with Michigan State.

There were many takeaways that we can look at from Thursday night’s bout between the Spartans and Terrapins.

What We Learned:

1. Kevin Huerter is the real deal.

If it has not been determined already, Kevin Huerter is the real deal for Maryland. Huerter has been an absolute tear in the past month. He has scored in double digits in each of his last nine games coming into Thursday night’s matchup against Michigan State.

Against the number one team in the nation, he continued to fill up the basket, especially from deep. In a season where he is shooting over 45 percent from behind the arc, Huerter came out of the gate against the Spartans and hit three early three-pointers to keep his team in striking distance, for most of the first half in the lead. He finished the game with 16 for his tenth game in a row in double digit scoring and made life difficult for Michigan State. It was not until Tom Izzo made the switch and put Matt McQuaid on him before Michigan State was able to contain him.

With the recent losses of Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender, Maryland will need more from players like Huerter. Against Michigan State, he looked up to the challenge.

2. The loss of Bender and Jackson leaves Maryland very small.

In their first game after finding out that they would be without power forward Justin Jackson and center Ivan Bender, Maryland’s size got tested right away against one of the deepest and tallest teams in the country in Michigan State. Unfortunately for them, it was not handled well.

Jackson would have likely had the assignment of guard either Miles Bridges or Jaren Jackson Jr. and would have probably done a better job of it than freshman starter Bruno Fernando. Bender would have provided another body in case of foul trouble. Bridges had one of his most productive nights on the season with 15 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Jackson Jr. was just as good offensively with 15 points of his own though was not as dominant on the boards with only one rebound.

The Terrapins were already going to have trouble containing the likes of Bridges, and Jackson Jr. It did not help when Michael Cekovsky was in foul trouble throughout the contest and fouled out with eight minutes remaining.

Maryland can ask their Thursday night counterparts how difficult is to defend knowing you lack the size and depth if there was a foul trouble situation. The Spartans dealt with that task last season. From now until the Big Ten Tournament, the Terrapins have a huge task on their hands. They now need to learn to defend without fouling and to score while playing a “small ball” lineup at times to find a way to stay in NCAA Tournament conversations.

3. Michigan State loves sharing the ball.

The Spartans lead the nation in assist percentage on made field goals with just under 70 percent. Over their past four games, Michigan State’s assist numbers have been astounding. In their last four games, the Spartans have tallied 30 assists against Houston Baptist, 28 against Long Beach State, 26 against Cleveland State, and 35 against Savannah State. Against stronger competition, there was no drop-off.

Against Maryland, the Spartans finished with 30 assists on 32 made field goals, five off their season high, and got contributions throughout their roster. Seven Spartans finished the game with at least one assists, four players finished with five or more. And it was the usual suspects putting in the work. Cassius Winston has been heralded as one of the best passers to ever play under Izzo and has lived up to those expectations this season. He once again led the way for Michigan State with eight dimes while Bridges had seven of his own. Tum Tum Nairn and McQuaid had 11 combined off of the bench.

With the amount of shooters and playmakers that the Spartans have, the way they are sharing the ball, they may not lose until late March or early April.

4. Finally, the Spartans took care of the ball.

Turnovers have been the one kryptonite that could hold the Spartan team back. Only twice in their first 15 games did Michigan State have less than 10 turnovers in a game, the last coming against Nebraska on Dec 3. Against Maryland, the Spartans had on of their best outing in ball control.

Michigan State finished with just seven turnovers against the Terrapins, their second lost total all year. Winston, one of the main contributors to those high numbers did not turn the ball over once Thursday night.

Early in the game it looked like that number could reach over 20. Michigan State had six turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. However the completely turned it around. They finished the final 30 minutes of the game with one turnover.

If Michigan State can now do this at a consistent level there is not a weakness on this team.

Overall

Through the first 10-12 minutes of the game, the Terrapins showed that they can survive without Jackson and Bender. They stood toe-to-toe to one of, if not, the best team in college basketball and did not blink. It helps that Huerter is playing like an All-Conference first teamer. But the final 30 minutes, the Spartans flexed their muscles.

When these two teams face again at the end of January at the Xfinity Center, it will be interesting to see what direction they will be heading in. Will the Spartans have a loss by then? Will Maryland still be in the race for the Big Ten title? Only time will tell.