EAST LANSING — Magic Johnson was back at Michigan State, joining his teammates to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of winning the national championship.
The Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Lakers president had plenty of opportunities to flash his familiar smile.
Nick Ward had 22 points and Matt McQuaid scored a season-high 18, leading the ninth-ranked Spartans to a 79-55 win over Minnesota on Saturday to keep the festivities positive.
“That’s why you come to places like this,” McQuaid said. “This place is special.”
The Spartans (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) ended a three-game losing streak, their longest skid in two years.
Ward, in particular, started the game inspired and appeared to stay motivated to bounce back from his previous home game. He was 1 of 9 at the free throw line, including a miss that would have put his team ahead late in regulation, and the Spartans were 8 of 22 as a team in a 79-75 overtime loss to Indiana last Sunday.
“We’ve got to leave those games in the past and move forward,” Ward said. “I just came out determined to do everything I could to win this game.”
Ward opened game with a basket, grabbed eight of his nine rebounds over the first 20 minutes, and closed the first half with a block to help Michigan State lead Minnesota 35-24. The junior forward made the first two shots after halftime and the Spartans went on to lead by 28 points midway through the second half.
“I’ll give Nick Ward credit,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We got to figure out how to keep that going.”
Michigan State, which has struggled to stay healthy, may have another injury concern.
Senior forward Kenny Goins played just 7 minutes in the first half and didn’t play after halftime because of a bruise on his left elbow. X-rays were negative, but Izzo doesn’t know if or how long Goins will be out of the starting lineup.
“I won’t know anything until (Sunday), but at least I know it’s not broken,” Izzo said.
Freshman Thomas Kithier took advantage of the opportunity to play in Goins’ place, scoring a season-high eight points. Cassius Winston had 11 points and nine assists without a turnover for the Spartans.
The Golden Gophers (16-8, 6-7) have lost a season-high three games and the latest setback was a rout in part because their leading scorers, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, combined to score just nine points after entering the game scoring more than 30 points per game.
“We’re easy to guard right now,” coach Richard Pitino said.
Minnesota’s Gabe Kalscheur scored 17 points and Daniel Oturu had 12 points, starting in place of forward Eric Curry, who was out with a calf injury.
“We need Eric back,” Pitino said. “We’re just a more complete team with him.”
Minnesota: Painfully, Pitino has found out his team is coming up short against ranked teams in the Big Ten. The Gophers closed a six-game stretch that included five games against ranked teams and beat just No. 19 Iowa and unranked Illinois.
“We’ve got to get our confidence back,” Gophers guard Dupree McBrayer said.
Minnesota: Plays at Nebraska on Wednesday night.
UNIVERSITY PARK – A waved-off goal for Minnesota in the first minute of play changed the tide of Saturday’s series finale as the Gopher Hockey program suffered a 6-2 loss to Penn State at Pegula Ice Arena.
Minnesota (11-14-4 overall, 8-9-3-0 Big Ten) found goals from Brent Gates Jr. and Sammy Walker while Clayton Phillips snapped a 15-game point drought with his second career multi-point game.
Gates opened the night by putting the puck in the net in the first minute of action although a review negated the goal due to too many players on the ice. Instead, it was Penn State (16-10-2, 8-9-1-1) jumping out in front soon after with a Nate Sucese goal at 2:10 followed by a waved off goal for Penn State that was also reviewed and called off due to too many men on the ice. Gates officially found the net later in the period with his 11th of the season off assists from Rem Pitlick and Clayton Phillips at 15:15 to send the game into the first intermission tied 1-1.
Walker gave Minnesota its first lead of the weekend 11:40 into the second period with his ninth of the year, set up by Blake McLaughlin and Phillips. But the Nittany Lions rattled off five-straight goals over the last 30 minutes of play to pick up the win.
Mat Robson made 42 saves for the Gophers, moving to 9-10-4. Peyton Jones picked up the win with 22 saves to improve to 12-7-2.
Minnesota returns to action next weekend with a Big Ten series at Ohio State.
ORLANDO – The No. 21 University of Minnesota Gophers fell 3-1 to Ole Miss this morning. The Maroon and Gold are now 2-1 and will close out opening weekend against George Mason at 10:30 a.m. CT tomorrow.
Amber Fiser sparkled in the circle again. She pitched three hitless innings to start the game after tossing five hitless innings at UCF yesterday. She went six innings with 10 strikeouts, one shy of her career high, and only allowed one earned run on the afternoon.
Ellee Jensen recorded Minnesota’s first hit in the first inning, but the Gophers were unable to get her across the plate after she advanced to third.
Fiser got help in a major way from her field in the third inning. Katelyn Kemmetmueller and MaKenna Partain both made great fielding plays on tough hit grounders and Hope Brandner adjusted on the throws three straight times to complete the outs.
The bats remained quiet until Brandner fired a two-out solo shot in the top of the fourth to put the Gophers up 1-0. Brandner already has two home runs on the season to go along with three doubles and seven RBIs.
Ole Miss answered with a three-run frame in the bottom of the fourth. They placed runners at second and third with no outs before an RBI-single knotted the game up. The Rebels plated two more runs on a Minnesota error during a rundown to give them the 3-1 lead.
Fiser struck out the side in the fifth inning and retired the side in order in the sixth to keep the Gophers in it but the bats never got going. The Van Horne, Iowa native is 1-1 on the early season with a 0.82 ERA.