Jan. 24, 2007
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan State has built up confidence with four straight wins.
The Spartans are going to need it.
The Spartans play their next game Saturday night at No. 5 Ohio State.
"We're looking forward now to what we get to do," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I told our guys, `This is why you come to a school like this. You get to play big games on national TV, in front of big crowds with everybody watching.'
"I say 17-4 is an incredible start, but we all know the real part of the season gets rolling for us as far as competition."
Michigan State (17-4, 4-2 Big Ten) beat the slumping Gophers with 16-2 and 16-4 runs in the first half and by holding them without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes.
Minnesota's Lawrence McKenzie and Dan Coleman each scored 13 and Jamal Abu-Shamala had 11 points. None of their teammates scored more than two points.
"It's tough to have games that you're not in," Coleman said.
The Gophers (7-13, 1-5) have lost five in a row, dating back to the Wisconsin game on Jan. 6, when junior center Spencer Tollackson was sidelined with a hand injury.
That blow came a little more than a month after coach Jim Molinari replaced Dan Monson.
"I'm not here to make excuses, but when we lost Spencer Tollackson, we lost one of the five best low-post scorers in the Big Ten that was averaging 13 points and seven rebounds," Molinari said. "We have not been able to overcome that.
"I think we got through the first wave of adversity, but losing him has been the thing that has really discouraged them."
Izzo said the Gophers are going through a tough situation.
"I can't imagine what that's like for the players and coach," Izzo said.
Michigan State was sluggish in the opening minutes, then it was dominant at both ends of the court in building 20-11 and 40-19 leads in the first half.
"We had some spurts when we were really good," Izzo said.
After McKenzie made a 3-pointer with 8:20 left in the first half, the Gophers didn't make another field goal until Coleman made a shot 4:33 after halftime.
Michigan State had a 30-point cushion midway through the second half, then cruised the rest of the way to improve to 14-0 at home.
Travis Walton scored seven points and had a career-high 11 assists for the Spartans, who made a season-high 25 assists on 28 field goals.
"Travis is starting to understand his role... and to know it's OK to pass up shots when you're open to run the team," Izzo said.
Michigan State made 57 percent of their shots in the first half, outrebounded the Gophers by 14 and held them to 31 percent shooting.
"Give Michigan State credit," Molinari said. "Tom Izzo is as good of a coach anywhere. They might play harder than they did last year and that's a credit to him and his staff."
Izzo said the Spartans work is not over.
Michigan State will need to close the regular season with some wins to earn a 10th straight NCAA tournament bid during a rebuilding year. But that won't be easy.
The Spartans play No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 5 Ohio State and Michigan twice each and have games against Indiana and at Illinois as part of a brutal stretch of the schedule.
"I'm trying to look at this like we're 0-0 and let's go see what we can do with the last 10 games," Izzo said. "But I don't want to take away from the 17-4 start because we beat some good teams."