WASHINGTON - Michigan State put it all together. For one day.
Defense. Rebounding. Scoring. Shooting. Dunking.
Stars doing spectacular things. Role players filling their roles to perfection.
They might have only done it for 33 minutes instead of 40, but it was more than enough to add up to dominating a 78-51 victory over No. 13 seed Penn State on Thursday afternoon at Verizon Center. And it likely sealed the fifth-seeded Spartans’ 20th straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.
That won’t be official until Sunday. But MSU (19-13), considered by most bracket analysts, avoided what could have been a costly loss and pushed into the league tournament quarterfinals for a 20th straight year as well.
The Spartans avenged their 72-63 loss to the Nittany Lions from Jan. 7 at the Palestra in Philadelphia. They’ll have a chance to make it three wins this season over No. 4 seed Minnesota on Friday.
Tom Izzo’s team defeated the Gophers (23-8) both times they played this season, a 75-74 overtime win to open Big Ten play on Dec. 27 and a 65-47 home win on Jan. 11.
Freshmen Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds. Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens hit five three-pointers between them for 15 points between them. Kenny Goins added nine rebounds, and Cassius Winston chipped in seven points.
Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens each scored 16 for Penn State (15-18), which defeated No. 12 seed Nebraska on Wednesday, 76-67. They were a combined 10-for-33.
MSU shot 55.9 percent in the first half while limiting the Nittany Lions to just 24.2 percent. That included holding Stevens and Carr to just 4-for-19 shooting - that duo went 12-of-22 for 32 points between them in the first meeting in Philadelphia.
MSU blasted off an 18-8 opening salvo, getting all of Ward’s nine first-half points in that stretch as well as four from Langford. The Spartans added to it later in the period with a 12-0 run, then a 9-0 burst to end the half, capped by a midair-spinning-in-traffic dunk by Bridges off a whipped pass from Langford.
The Spartans were up 45-27 at the break, then kept pouring it on in the second half before a 7-minute scoring stretch late. They used an 11-0 run midway through the second half to extend it to 27 and put any doubts to rest about advancing to Friday - and eventually into the NCAA Tournament.
Bridges had 15 points and nine rebounds, Ward scored 15 with eight boards. Langford added 13 points and five rebounds.