EAST LANSING, Mich. — After forward Xavier Tillman blocked Maryland men’s basketball guard Darryl Morsell at the rim late in the second half Monday, Michigan State star Cassius Winston smelled blood.
The Spartans had owned the Terps in transition all night, and as Maryland scrambled to get into position, Winston didn’t hesitate. He drove right, used a behind-the-back move to lose guard Anthony Cowan and went reverse with a deft finish to avoid the long arms of forward Jalen Smith.
For the second time, Winston’s transition magic forced a timeout from coach Mark Turgeon. This one was a dagger, keeping the Terps at bay after one last comeback attempt.
No. 6 Michigan State used 29 fast-break points to turn the highly anticipated first-place matchup into a blowout, handing No. 13 Maryland a 69-55 loss to snap the team’s seven-game win streak.
“They like to get out and run. We knew that coming into the game,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “But what they do, you can’t really practice that. They get out so quick.”
The game was tied at 20 late in the first half, before the Spartans (17-2, 8-0 Big Ten) went on a 28-6 run spanning halftime.
Early in that stretch, Winston pounced after a Maryland (16-4, 7-2) turnover, pushed upcourt and found forward Thomas Kithier all alone under the basket, where he’d been standing for a couple of seconds without any Terp making note of him.
“They subbed No. 15 [Kithier] in — I don’t even know his name, I apologize — and he made two buckets right before half,” Turgeon said, “and really changed the game.”
That sequence was the first time an irate Turgeon had to stop the action, but the timeout couldn’t jumpstart his lethargic offense, which didn’t score in the final four minutes before halftime. The Spartans held a 31-20 lead at the break, and they needed less than five minutes to double that margin in the second period.
“The start of the second half was really frustrating,” Turgeon said. “It was like we weren’t even out there. They'd just get all the way to the rim. … They’re good in transition.”
The seven-game win streak the Terps carried into East Lansing had been impressive, catapulting them into the top 15 from outside the rankings entirely, but they still hadn’t earned a win against another team in the top five of the Big Ten standings.
Michigan State entered Monday without a Big Ten regular-season loss in over a year, and after No. 5 Michigan’s loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, coach Tom Izzo’s squad was the last unbeaten team in the conference.
When asked what the difference was between Maryland’s past few road victories and Monday’s defeat at Breslin Center, Turgeon was honest: “It’s who we played.”
Michigan State took a 12-6 lead by dominating the offensive glass, and the Spartans went on to become the second team to outrebound the Terps this season. A pair of 3-pointers extended the early edge to 18-6, but when the Spartans went quiet, Maryland clawed back into the game.
Over the next seven minutes, the Terps went on a 14-2 run that included three triples after missing their first seven attempts from distance. That evened the game at 20, but it was the last time Maryland scored before the half.
“We were atrocious the last four minutes [before halftime],” Turgeon said.
The Spartans took advantage of that slip-up, along with the Terps’ sloppiness early in the second period, to put the game away. After a 7-0 run in under two minutes, a 3-pointer from forward Kenny Goins pushed the lead to 48-26, as wide as it grew all night.
The Terps heated up from three-point range, going 6-for-12 on 3-pointers after halftime, but the Spartans were simply too good to allow them any closer than 11 points. Even with guard Aaron Wiggins scoring a season-high 15 points and Morsell hitting a pair of 3-pointers, the Spartans remained unfazed and relatively unthreatened.
“We did a heck of a job on Cowan, a decent job on Jalen Smith,” Izzo said. “[Maryland is] a very good basketball team. I’m sure Mark doesn’t feel they played great. I don’t feel we played great [but] we found a way to win.”
Forward Nick Ward had zero points in 14 minutes, as he ran into foul trouble trying to guard Bruno Fernando, and guard Joshua Langford missed his sixth straight game with a foot injury. But with 14 points from Goins, 12 points from forward Aaron Henry and contributions from role players like Kithier, the absence of two of the Spartans’ three top scorers didn’t matter.
Meanwhile, with Cowan (seven points) and Smith (six points) struggling, the Terps couldn’t get enough out of the rest of their roster to pull the upset.
Last year’s trip to East Lansing resulted in the most lopsided loss of Turgeon’s tenure, a 91-61 shellacking, and when Michigan State’s lead stretched past 20 on Monday, it seemed this year’s visit to Breslin Center may get similarly ugly.
Maryland’s shooting helped prevent that, but it couldn’t keep the Spartans from running away with the win and showing the room a young team has to grow if it wants to hang with the truly elite of the conference.
“Tonight’s the first night that my team looked young. And we are young, but it’s the first night we’ve looked young,” Turgeon said. “Michigan State had a lot to do with that.”