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Twelfth-ranked Michigan State Spartans squash Rutgers

By Dana Gauruder, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 1, 2016 at 1:00 AM

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- In the tune-up before facing its biggest rival, Michigan State tied a school record by making 17 3-pointers. Coach Tom Izzo would have preferred a better defensive effort.

The No. 12 Spartans used that 3-point barrage, plus an overwhelming rebounding advantage, to manhandle overmatched Rutgers 96-62 Sunday at the Breslin Center.

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Izzo was still far from satisfied, as the Spartans (19-4, 6-4 Big Ten) let down defensively after building an early 16-point lead. Rutgers (6-16, 0-9), which has lost nine straight, was down just eight points in the final minute of first half before his team pulled away.

"I'm excited and disappointed," Izzo said. "When you make 17 threes, you've got to be excited. But the old adage is as soon as you make some shots, you decide you don't want to guard anybody. I thought we did a poor job on that. This week, we won't work on shooting, we'll work on guarding somebody."

Michigan State, which made 16 3-point shots at Northwestern on Thursday, doesn't play again until facing archrival Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans have won three straight following a three-game losing streak.

"I feel like we're at a better place," Spartans senior center Matt Costello said. "We screwed up badly on defense in the first half, just being in gaps, being selfish, so we've got to shore that up. But we're in a better place than we were two weeks ago."

Michigan State had a whopping 33-2 advantage on second-chance points while out-rebounding Rutgers 56-27. Those extended possessions often wound up with a basket from long range. The Spartans had 11 different players record at least one assist.

"We kept giving (the guards) opportunities by getting offensive rebounds and they hit shots, open shots," Costello said. "We got a lot of second-chance points and that kind of threw off Rutgers a little bit. We're moving the ball great. We started out a little selfish in the first half and then we found a way to move the ball around."

Denzel Valentine piled up 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. The senior point guard, who is averaging 21 points over the past five games, made six 3-pointers. He missed four games in late December and early January after minor knee surgery.

"He's back to full go," Izzo said. "He's starting to get back after people and that's good to see."

Senior shooting guard Bryn Forbes contributed 18 points, all on six first-half 3-pointers, and Costello notched his sixth double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Junior shooting guard Eron Harris chipped in 14 points for the Spartans.

Sophomore guard Mike Williams had 18 points and freshman point guard Corey Sanders and senior guard Omari Grier added 17 apiece for the Scarlet Knights.

"As usual, their size and the flow of the game, it just wears us out," Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. "Our kids battled. I saw a lot of box-outs from our guys where a 6-9 guy who's 30 or 40 pounds heavier than our guys will get a rebound right over a box-out. I thought we could have stayed more organized offensively to stem the tide a little bit, so that was the only thing I was disappointed in."

Jordan's team has three freshmen and two sophomores playing extensive minutes, often out of their normal positions.

"We're sort of trying to reinvent ourselves on an almost weekly basis," he said. "Mike Williams is an undersized two-man and he's playing forward. Jon Laurent is a backup three (small forward) and he's playing center. We're trying to find ways for our kids to play together. We've got guys that hopefully this time next year will be singing a different tune."

Michigan State's 11-point halftime lead mushroomed to 28 during the first seven minutes of the second half. Costello's put-back gave the Spartans a 20-point lead, and Valentine followed with a pair of 3-pointers. Valentine then assisted on a layup by freshman power forward Deyonta Davis.

NOTES: The teams were playing for the first time in East Lansing. Michigan State recorded a 71-50 road victory last season in their first matchup since Rutgers joined the Big Ten. ... The Spartans are 16-0 when leading at halftime. ... Michigan State records an assist on 71 percent of its baskets, leading the nation in that category. ... The Scarlet Knights have only seven healthy scholarship players. They lost C Shaquille Doorson during the preseason and C Ibrahims Diallo and F Deshawn Freeman prior to the conference season because of injuries. ... Rutgers, which hasn't won a Big Ten game since upsetting then No. 4 Wisconsin 67-62 last Jan. 11, hosts Illinois on Wednesday night.

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