NCAA Basketball

No. 19 Michigan State takes aim at unbeaten Minnesota

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo knows how dangerous Minnesota can be at home.

The Spartans visited Minneapolis last season and got blown out by 25 points. They'll open the Big Ten season on the same court on Wednesday.

Michigan State tuned up for the game with an 81-68 victory over Toledo on Saturday.

"Last year, we went up there and got our clocks cleaned," Izzo said. "I mean we got dismantled up there. So you know I'm looking forward to getting some good practice days in and playing better when we go up there on Wednesday."

The Spartans (7-2) moved up three spots to No. 19 in the latest poll after recording a victory over Louisville as well as the Rockets last week.

Minnesota (7-0) has gone undefeated in nonconference play under new head coach Ben Johnson but remains unranked.

"Conference play is so much different than regular season (nonconference) play. And Minnesota, they've won some games," Izzo said. "They won a tough, close game (against Pittsburgh) last week. Ben has done a great job with his team. They've got two guys that really, really shoot the ball."

The players Izzo was referring to are Jamison Battle (17.9 points per game) and Payton Willis (17.4 PPG). Battle had 20 points and Willis 24 in an 81-76 triumph over Mississippi State on Sunday.

Willis delivered in the clutch, draining a 3-pointer with the game tied and 17 seconds left. He added two clinching free throws.

"I just came down and hit a shot, but my teammates gave me the confidence to take it and knock it down," Willis said.

The Golden Gophers have pulled out a number of close games. They defeated Western Kentucky by four points, edged Princeton in double overtime and topped Pitt by one point. They led Mississippi State by as many as 14 points and staved off the Bulldogs' late charge.

"This is a very good Mississippi State team," Johnson said. "But our guys are battle-tested and they found a way to rise up and do it again."

The Spartans have played a tougher schedule to this point, with losses to Top-10 teams Kansas and Baylor and a victory over another ranked team, Connecticut.

"Just playing all these good teams helps, so we'll be ready," guard Tyson Walker said.

Michigan State had a 26-point lead late in the first half against Toledo and led by 20 at halftime.

"I thought that was as good a first half as we played all year if you looked at offense and defense," Izzo said. "I was really pleased with the penetration kickouts to open threes, we just could not make one for the first five minutes. Then we started making our threes. We started moving the ball."

Toledo used some backcourt pressure to chip away at the Spartans' advantage but never got closer than nine points.

Michigan State guard Max Christie said his team needs to be better coming out of halftime.

"Toledo came out and absolutely kicked our butt in the first four minutes," Christie said. "That kind of set the tone for the rest of the half. ... That's a trend on our team. We've got to find that consistency, for sure, just being sure that we come out fast in the first half, and same thing with the second half."

--Field Level Media

Updated December 6, 2021

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