Since the start of last season, Michigan State has had no problems winning on its home court. Winning on the road is another story, however.
The ninth-ranked Spartans try to put last season’s road woes behind them when they open their road schedule Tuesday at Bradley, which has not lost a nonconference game at Carver Arena in nearly five years.
Michigan State is 6-1 for the second straight season, but now looks to open with seven wins in its first eight games for the first time since starting 12-0 in 2000-01.
This is the first true road game for the Spartans, who were 1-8 on the road last season while going 18-1 at home. They averaged 69.1 points at the Breslin Center, 11.5 more than it averaged on the road.
Michigan State follows this matchup with another road game in a tough environment, at BYU on Saturday.
“I do think there’s a benefit in going on the road and playing in tough places, especially for some of our young guys,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.
Izzo’s squad is facing a Bradley team which has won 29 straight home games against non-Missouri Valley Conference foes since falling to Central Michigan 74-71 on Dec. 18, 2002. The Braves (6-2), though, have not hosted a Top 25 nonconference opponent since a 72-62 loss to then-No. 15 Illinois on Nov. 22, 1999.
This will be the highest ranked nonconference opponent to play at Carver Arena since Bradley beat then-No. 8 Tulsa 82-79 in overtime on Feb. 27, 1982.
“I read one article an alum sent me that said this is the biggest thing that has happened there in 10 years,” Izzo said. “I’m not sure whether we’re that big or they haven’t had a lot of things that have happened there. But they don’t get a Michigan State to come in there all the time. There’s no question about that.”
The Spartans had no problem taking care of the Braves last season, winning 82-53 on Dec. 3 at the Breslin Center. Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel had a game-high 20 points and teammate Raymar Morgan had 18 points and seven boards.
Morgan had another big game Saturday in an 80-51 victory over Jacksonville as he finished with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, a game-high seven rebounds and a season-high two blocked shots. The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward is averaging a team-high 18.0 points and 8.0 boards.
“Raymar was very, very good,” Izzo said. “His stats look real good. But they aren’t indicative of how well he played. Considering his defense, it was one of his best all-around games.”
It was the same for the Spartans as a team. They shot a season-high 55.8 percent from the field and finished with a season-best 23 assists while holding the Dolphins to just 38.2 percent shooting.
“We’re still learning how to play with each other,” said Neitzel, who had 10 points, seven assists and only one turnover. “We’ve made significant progress that way.”
Michigan State ran its nonconference home winning streak to 31 games—tied with Washington for the third-longest streak in the nation. The Spartans have played five home games this season, and the only games they’ve played away from the Breslin Center came at the CBE Classic in Kansas City.
Bradley (6-2) is coming off a 90-72 win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday.
Jeremy Crouch matched his career high with seven 3-pointers in nine attempts and finished with a season-high 25 points. The senior guard scored 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range in Wednesday’s 64-47 win over Loyola, and had 12 points in last season’s loss to Michigan State.
Senior Daniel Ruffin had 10 points and eight assists Saturday to become the fourth player in MVC history to reach 1,000 points and 500 assists. The 5-foot-10 point guard, who also had seven rebounds, has 533 career assists and 1,003 points. He had 13 points and four assists against the Spartans last season.
Last season’s game between Michigan State and Bradley was just the second meeting between the programs. The Spartans won the first matchup 89-87 on Dec. 19, 1969.
Bradley has lost eight of nine regular-season games against Top 25 teams since 1996.