After winning the Big Ten regular season title a season ago, No. 10 Michigan State bid farewell to two of its top three scorers in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. While Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are back, and will be expected to once again be major contributors, the Spartans do need to find players capable to help account for the production lost.
Michigan State’s 92-87 loss to top-ranked Kansas Tuesday night in Indianapolis was a mixed bag of sorts. While the first half exposed the Spartans a bit offensively, as they were unable to withstand the Jayhawk onslaught, there were positives to be taken from the second half.
Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid, who combined to score just six points in the first half, accounted for 24 in the second as Michigan State mounted its charge. Both were run off of screens away from the ball, either to receive the ball immediately or via a second pass, on multiple occasions and this approach benefitted the Michigan State offense. After shooting just 34.6 percent from the field in the first half, Michigan State made 51.5 percent of its shots in the second half.
And this wasn’t solely about the in-game improvements of Langford and McQuaid, either. Senior forward Kenny Goins was solid throughout, scoring 17 points on 5-for-11 shooting (3-for-8 3PT) while also grabbing a team-best 11 rebounds. With Winston and Ward struggling with their shots, going a combined 5-for-18 from the field, the production of Goins kept the door open ever so slightly for a comeback.
The Spartans fell short in this regard, with Kansas sealing the outcome with two free throws in the final seconds, but the fact that Tom Izzo’s team was able to get back into the game after a poor first half is something to build on.
Given their track records, Winston and Ward shouldn’t shoot as poorly as they did Tuesday night in future games. But even if that is the case, Michigan State will need others to step up offensively if they’re to retain the Big Ten title and potentially play deep into the NCAA tournament. The second half performance of Langford and McQuaid is something that Michigan State can build upon moving forward.
But that will only happen if the production is consistent over the course of a full game, which was not the case against Kansas.