EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Nick Ward returned to the starting lineup Saturday, Feb. 9, and scored 22 points as No. 9 Michigan State used its defense, rebounding and transition game to end a three-game losing streak with a 79-55 Big Ten Conference victory over visiting Minnesota.
Ward, who was pulled from the lineup in Tuesday's loss to Illinois, added nine rebounds. Matt McQuaid scored 18 points and Cassius Winston had 11 points and nine assists for the Spartans (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten), who remained a game out of first place in the conference.
Minnesota struggled to find any offensive rhythm as leading-scorer Amir Coffey didn't register points in the box score until a dunk on a fast break with a little more than eight minutes to play. He finished with four points while Jordan Murphy had just five points.
Gabe Kalscheur scored 17 to lead the Golden Gophers (16-8, 6-7), who have now lost three straight. Daniel Oturu added 12 points for Minnesota.
Michigan State's victory came in front of the 1979 Michigan State championship team, including Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who said before the game that the Spartans' struggles over the last couple of weeks would help them in the long run.
"It's only gonna make Michigan State better," Johnson said. "We've got one of the best coaches in college basketball, so I'm not really worried about the Spartans. It's tough when you lose a shooting guard that we lost (Joshua Langford) and everybody has to figure out how to make up for his 14, 15 points a game. That's tough to do, but we'll get there."
It looked like the Spartans were there on Saturday, taking control early in the game by opening a 21-5 lead behind Ward, who was tough to stop early. The junior forward scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the opening half to make up for the fact that Winston sat with two fouls, and forward Kenny Goins left midway through the half with an injury to his left elbow.
Minnesota chipped away with a 9-1 run to pull within single digits. But Michigan State got some big minutes from freshman Thomas Kithier, who scored six in the opening half, while McQuaid had 10 in the first 20 minutes.
Minnesota shot just 8-for-26 from the field in the first half, while falling behind 35-24.
Michigan State got a spark to open the second half as Winston returned and got the Spartans' transition game going. He fed Ward for a dunk in the first minute, then scored himself on a drive to the hoop to open a 41-24 lead and force the Gophers to take a timeout.
The lead grew to 64-38 on a McQuaid 3-pointer, but Minnesota scored nine straight from that point to close the gap, which proved to be too large.