Nov. 08, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gary Harris flourished, as expected, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the first half and finishing with a career-high 10 rebounds to help No. 2 Michigan State beat McNeese State 98-56 on Friday night in a tuneup for its next game against top-ranked Kentucky.
The Spartans, though, were pleasantly surprised by how well Branden Dawson and Travis Trice played in the season-opening rout.
Dawson scored 12 points, grabbed 12 rebounds - one shy of his career high - and had a career-high five assists.
Trice scored 11 points and had a career-high eight assists.
"Those were two big pluses," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
A year ago, Dawson was slowly recovering from major surgery on his left knee and Trice was coming back from what Izzo has called a "brain infection" that dropped 22 pounds off his slight frame.
Izzo said Trice was a difference-maker in the first half, allowing Michigan State to pull away after trailing briefly. Dawson seemed to respond well to a one-on-one talk after he was late to a recent meeting, leading to Izzo pulling him out of the starting lineup.
"We didn't run anything for (Dawson) and he was unbelievable," Izzo said. "He was the only guy in there rebounding at times and he was running. That's the Branden Dawson I thought we'd see. I'm happy for him. He's been through a lot."
Michigan State scored 10 straight points after trailing 13-12 early in the game and opened the second half with an 11-0 run to take a 63-25 lead.
The Spartans kept multiple starters in the game until there were 5 minutes left, when Dawson made a second straight dunk. They will face much tougher competition in Chicago against Kentucky.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the game on Tuesday," McNeese State coach Dave Simmons said unsolicited.
Izzo and a lot of college basketball fans are, too.
"We're going to have some problems with (Kentucky) matching up and they might have some problems with us," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. This is kind of what you dream of when you have a job like this to play the best and see where you are.
"It looks like an NBA team. It's a big, big team. Talented team. Well-coached team. Can't wait."
Michigan State had six scorers in double digits and outrebounded the Cowboys 66-29.
"Top to bottom, they're just a very deep basketball team and you can't underestimate anybody coming off the bench," Simmons said.
Denzel Valentine had 12 points and Keith Appling scored 11 for the Spartans while Adreian Payne had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"Usually with a team this talented, you run into guys who are selfish," Trice said. "But that's not us."
The Spartans shot 52 percent and held McNeese State to 27.4 percent shooting, playing better at both ends of the court after a shaky start.
Michigan State had some success early - making its first two shots, both 3-pointers - before struggling to make open shots and get the ball into open spaces against the Cowboys' zone.
That led to McNeese State taking the lead, briefly, before getting outscored 40-12 the rest of the first half. The Spartans turned a 52-25 lead at halftime into a 38-point cushion early in the second half.
Michigan State scored 40 points on the fast break and turned 18 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points.
"I didn't know they were that great in transition," Simmons said.
"Hopefully, our identity is that we're going to run, but we have to rebound to run and we have to defend better," Izzo said.
Ledrick Eackles and Jamaya Burr led the Cowboys with 11 points each.
"Looking at what we did early, there's some positive things we're going to take back from this," Simmons said.