EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)—After Michigan State’s 10th straight win, Tom Izzo saw the dangers of the Christmas break and a Big Ten schedule with no breaks in sight.
Maurice Ager scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half, and the No. 9 Spartans struggled past Tennessee Tech 80-63 Wednesday night.
“We looked like a team that came off a four-day break and weren’t very sharp or efficient offensively,” Izzo said. “Hopefully, we’ll get better in the next few days because we’re not good enough right now.”
Drew Neitzel had 14 points, Shannon Brown 13 and Paul Davis and Marquise Gray 10 each as Michigan State (11-2) maintained its longest win streak since 2001.
That didn’t stop Izzo from looking ahead to January and a tough start to the conference schedule, including games at Illinois and Wisconsin, a visit from Indiana and a trip to Ohio State before the middle of the month.
“Maybe it is that computer that has terminal cancer, I don’t know,” Izzo said. “We’re starting against the six best teams, with seven of our first 11 on the road. Maybe that’s why I’m walking gingerly, bcause I know there’s a train wreck coming.”
The Golden Eagles (8-3) avoided much of the wreckage by stifling the Spartans’ fastbreak and applying tight defensive pressure, especially in the first half.
“They just have so many weapons,” Tennessee Tech associate head coach Steve Payne said. “We did a good job of stopping their break. And I don’t know if it was our defense or our offense that hurt us. We knew if we allowed them to get out and run, they’re the best transition team in the country.”
Derek Stribling led the Golden Eagles (8-3) with 18 points, and Keyon Boyd added 11.
Michigan State trailed 11-7 after failing to score for 6:41 in an ugly first half. But the Spartans led 28-25 at the break despite committing 12 turnovers and shooting as poorly as they had all season.
Tennessee Tech missed several open shots and was 1-for-10 on 3-pointers in the first half. The Golden Eagles’ struggles continued early in the second half as Michigan State used an 11-0 run to build a 48-31 lead.
The Golden Eagles cut a 19-point lead to 12 late in the game. However, the Spartans’ 57-percent shooting from the field in the second half and 16 offensive rebounds were too much to overcome.
Gray had career-highs in points and rebounds and grabbed five of his nine boards at the offensive end. Brown, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, added eight rebounds and five assists.
“Does he get full credit for all those rebounds?” Brown said of Gray’s follows of missed layups. “If he gets full credit on the stat sheet, then he does. But he can’t be doing that in the games we have coming up. We have a long way to go.”
Michigan State shot 35 free throws to just 12 for Tennessee Tech and outscored the Golden Eagles 22-8 at the foul line.