Michigan State coach Tom Izzo hadn’t been so sure about his Spartans. He spent his Christmas feeling a little bit better about them.
The seventh-ranked Spartans, coming off their biggest win of the season, will look to maintain their momentum and win their ninth straight game as they host Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday at the Breslin Center.
It’s the final game for Michigan State (11-1) before beginning Big Ten play, and its first game since beating then-No. 4 Texas 78-72 at the Palace of Auburn Hills last Saturday.
Izzo called that game a “great Christmas present,” but just one game earlier, he had been upset with his team following an 85-45 win over San Jose St. on Dec. 19. In that game, the Spartans were outrebounded 25-21 in the first half.
But the Spartans were far better against Texas, holding the previously unbeaten Longhorns to 39.3 percent shooting and committing just seven turnovers — their fewest since having only five in a 68-66 loss to Wisconsin in the 2004 Big Ten tournament.
Reserve freshman point guard Kalin Lucas had a season-high 18 points, and while standout Texas point guard D.J. Augustin had 22 points, he did go 6-for-17 from the field.
“I think I’m just as good as him,” Lucas said. “I took this matchup personally because people have been saying he’s the best point guard in the country.”
Forward Raymar Morgan also had 18 points and four assists for the Spartans, continuing his breakout sophomore season. Morgan is averaging 16.8 points— more than five above his total from last season—and is shooting 58.8 percent, the second-best mark in the Big Ten.
Morgan also had a key block in the final minute to seal the win.
“It’s huge to play these kind of games so early in the season because the experience can only help you when it really matters in the tournament,” Morgan said.
Wisconsin-Green Bay (7-4) doesn’t present quite the same challenge. The Phoenix haven’t beaten a ranked team since 1998, losing 11 straight, and have never beaten a top-10 team. They’ve also lost 19 in a row against Big Ten opponents, and are 0-5 all-time against Michigan State.
The teams have played each other each of the past three seasons, with the Spartans winning all three by an average of 33 points. Last season’s game, a 76-64 Michigan State win at the Breslin Center in which Drew Neitzel had 22 points, was the closest.
The Phoenix are coming off an 86-75 win over Northern Illinois, a game in which junior guard Ryan Tillema scored a career-high 33 points while leading scorer Mike Schachtner (18.9 points per game) struggled with foul trouble.
“I really liked our intensity, our grit, but we played very sloppy,” Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk said after that game. “So it’s nice to get a win when you play sloppy.”
The Phoenix are just 2-4 on the road, while Michigan State has won 11 in a row at home and 25 of 26 since the beginning of last season.