EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)—Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown teamed for 46 points in their last non-conference tuneup, then said No. 9 Michigan State has the talent to win its first Big Ten title since 2001.
Ager scored 25 points and Brown had 21 as the Spartans beat winless Coppin State 78-54 on Saturday to set a school record for non-conference wins.
“It was a difficult game to coach and a difficult game to play,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I told our team we’ve played every style and covered the (gamut) during this preseason. And this was the final chapter.”
Ager, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, was 4-for-8 from 3-point range and had four assists for the Spartans (12-2), who hosted their first game on Dec. 31 in 65 years.
“I think we took a good step,” Ager said. “Illinois played the same team (winning 61-42). And in the back of our minds, we were measuring ourselves against them. One of the reasons I came back as a senior was to win a Big Ten championship.”
Brown had three 3-pointers for Michigan State, which won its 11th straight game since the Maui Invitational semifinals and finished 8-0 for the month.
“Of all the goals we have, winning the conference is the first big one,” Brown said. “We’ve just got to come out and play like we know how to play. If we do that, we can get four rings—the Big Ten, the Big Ten tournament, another Final Four and the national championship.”
Paul Davis had the 21st double-double of his career with 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Spartans, the Big Ten’s top scoring team.
“If we get better every day and don’t take any steps back, we’ll be rolling,” Davis said. “If we don’t play well in the next three or four games, we can be out of the Big Ten race right off the bat. The winner is probably only going to have two losses, three at the most, so we can’t afford to slip up.”
Tywain McKee led Coppin State (0-11) with 17 points. Talmedge Bell and Darryl Roberts each had 10 points for the Eagles, who won’t play their first home game this season until Jan. 14.
“Relief?” asked Coppin State coach-athletic director Fang Mitchell. “Put it this way, tomorrow is a new year. And I’ll be happy to get to it. Some people said our schedule was suicide. But that’s only true if we don’t learn from it.”
Michigan State trailed 17-15 before the first of two 12-2 runs. The Spartans led 32-25 at halftime, then broke the game open with their second spurt against a team with one 6-foot-7 starter and no one else taller than 6-4.
Michigan State shot 44.1 percent from the field but had 19 assists on 26 baskets and outrebounded Coppin State 44-26, including 23 on the offensive end. Davis had eight offensive rebounds, one less than the visitors.
The Eagles, who also lost at Xavier, UCLA, Oklahoma, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Michigan in the past five weeks, stayed competitive against the Spartans with 9-for-17 shooting from 3-point range.
“I think Michigan State and Illinois are two of the better teams in the country,” Mitchell said of the Spartans and their first conference host on Thursday. “Michigan State is more physical. But both teams are very athletic and can shoot the ball. It’ll be a tough one to call.”