No. 6 Michigan State stayed red hot Monday night with a 69-55 win over No. 13 Maryland.
Cassius Winston scored 14 points and added seven assists at home in the Breslin Center as the Spartans earned their 12th win in a row. They scored the final 11 points of the first half to gain some breathing room before pulling away in the second, leading by as many as 22 points before closing out the win.
Michigan State is now 17-2 on the season and alone in first place in the Big Ten with an 8-0 conference record.
The result also snaps a seven-game winning streak for Maryland (16-4), which couldn't rally despite a double-double from Bruno Fernando.
Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins Must Become Consistent Weapons to Replace Joshua Langford
Michigan State began the year with what was effectively a three-headed attack between Winston, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford, each of whom averaged at least 15 points per game.
Unfortunately, Langford has been out since the start of January with a foot injury, and there doesn't appear to be a timetable for him to return. Head coach Tom Izzo even discussed the possibility that the guard would miss the rest of the season.
This means other players on the team need to fill the void, and the only two seniors should be at the top of the list.
Matt McQuaid showed his ability in the first half against Maryland, finishing with 10 points after leading all scorers with eight points in the first half. He also added three assists and three steals.
Kenny Goins did most of his work after halftime to end with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
This all came after McQuaid had just two points on 0-of-6 shooting from the field against Nebraska. Goins had seven points and went 2-of-7. A big game from Winston helped the Spartans escape with a six-point win last game, but he and Ward were the only players on the team who hit double figures.
If Michigan State is going to contend for a Big Ten title and possibly the national championship, it will need a consistent third scorer who can take the pressure off the top two players.
Both McQuaid and Goins have been known as ideal role players throughout their careers to this point. McQuaid plays good defense while knocking down shots from distance, while Goins is a rebounder who usually only shoots when he is wide-open.
However, they have to be more aggressive each game to keep the offense running smoothly.
With an elite defense and plenty of talent elsewhere on the roster, more production from the seniors could be the last piece needed to make this team unstoppable.
Bruno Fernando Will Keep Maryland Among Big Ten's Best
Michigan State was on another level Monday, with the stifling defense holding Maryland to just 34.4 percent shooting from the field and 9-of-26 from three-point range. Anthony Cowan Jr. had scored at least 20 points in four straight games but was held to just seven points on 3-of-12 in this one.
After going almost two months without a loss, it's clear this is one of the best teams in college basketball.
However, Maryland showed a lot of resolve in the defeat, as well as a lot of talent in Fernando.
Going against one of the most physical teams in the country, the sophomore still outmuscled his way in the frontcourt while finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
For a large chunk of the game, he was the only offense for the Terps:
He was also a major reason Michigan State star Ward was held to zero points.
Fernando now has 11 double-doubles on the season, including seven of his last nine against some quality opponents. Even when he doesn't score, he puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team and opens things up for the rest of his team.
This is big for a young rotation composed of mostly freshmen who continue to improve as the year progresses.
Jalen Smith was outmatched in this one, but he has as much upside as anyone on the roster. Aaron Wiggins showed his skill with five made three-pointers for 15 points off the bench, his second double-digit game in a row. Eric Ayala and Ricky Lindo Jr. have also made impressive contributions this year that go well beyond the box score.
After entering the conference season with modest expectations, Maryland has been incredible against Big Ten competition. The Terps won seven of their first eight league games with victories over Indiana, Nebraska and Wisconsin, plus road wins over Minnesota and Ohio State.
Winning this game was a long shot considering Michigan State's recent play and dominance at home, going more than a year since its last loss at the Breslin Center.
Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post noted the positive takeaways even in defeat:
The key for this team is to bounce back and not let the loss lead to more negative performances.
With Fernando and Cowan leading the way, there should be a lot more wins going forward.
Michigan State will have a tough road battle in its next game when it takes on No. 19 Iowa on Thursday. Maryland will have a rare neutral-court conference game Saturday when it faces Illinois at Madison Square Garden in New York City.