Indianapolis – Michigan State was back on the road Wednesday, and it was quite the environment.
Playing their first true road game since March of 2020, the Spartans responded, getting 19 from Gabe Brown to jump on Butler early, overcoming 20 turnovers and holding off the Bulldogs down the stretch for a 73-52 victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The building was jumping as all 9,100 fans were on their feet for the Gavitt Games matchup, the first between Michigan State and Butler since the 2010 Final Four.
Brown was 4-for-10 from 3-point range while freshman Max Christie hit a pair of triples and scored a season-high 18 points for the Spartans (2-1). Marcus Bingham Jr. added 10 points, six rebounds and a career-high six blocks for Michigan State, which hosts Eastern Michigan on Saturday at the Breslin Center.
“This is a thrill for me,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It was a bucket-list item (to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse). It met every expectation. Hinkle Fieldhouse sure didn’t let me down in any way shape or form.”
Brown and Christie were both the catalysts for Michigan State, but it was clear in the early minutes that the Spartans were not going to be overwhelmed by the moment.
“They came in here with a purpose,” Izzo said. “They knew it was a big deal for me. I gave praise to this place. It’s all part of the history of the game. But I could hear them at the shootaround today and they knew it was a big deal for me, and I learned it was a big deal for them.
“But we didn’t look like an intimidated group. I said to win on the road you need toughness and togetherness and tonight I thought we had a little bit of both and it’s something that we can build on.”
Ty Groce scored 15 for Butler (3-1) while Chuck Harris added 13 points for the Bulldogs.
“They’re a classic Michigan State team,” said Butler coach LaVall Jordan, a former Michigan assistant. “Obviously having coached against them in the Big Ten at Iowa and Michigan. But they’ve got long wings like Shannon Brown, Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, all those guys did.”
The Spartans were clicking offensively in the early going, jumping out to a 13-5 lead as Brown nailed a 3-pointer from the wing with Bingham and Christie scoring four each. Christie then hit a 3-pointer from the opposite wing as Michigan State went on a 9-0 run to take a 22-8 lead.
The Bulldogs went on a nearly five-minute drought without a point, finally breaking through with a triple from Jair Bolden with just more than 10 minutes to play in the half.
It was back and forth from there as Michigan State’s lead hovered around 10 points, but the turnovers began to pile up and the Spartans made just two of their final 11 shots, finishing the half with nine turnovers.
The struggles were nearly as bad for Butler, which was just 8-for-31 shooting in the first half, making only three two-point buckets while also turning the ball over nine times.
Neither team scored over the final 1:38 as Michigan State took a 31-23 lead into the locker room.
A quick surge to open the half put the Spartans in control as an 10-0 run gave them a 44-28 lead with 14:07 to play. Christie was aggressive as he and Brown hit triples before Christie pulled down a rebound in traffic and drew a Butler foul.
Christie then scored in the lane and after a jumper from Butler’s Harris, Bingham put back a missed Jaden Akins shot, got fouled and made the free throw to put Michigan State up, 47-30, with 12:38 to play.
Michigan State had a couple of chances to push the lead to 20, but a few empty possessions and a Butler 3-pointer from Myles Wilmoth cut the Michigan State lead to 54-41 with 6:51 to play.
Just when it looked like the Bulldogs might be able to mount a comeback, however, the Spartans scored five quick points, the last three on a triple from Brown in transition to push the lead to 59-41 with 5:15 to play.
A dunk from Bingham and a 3-pointer off the glass from Malik Hall pushed Michigan State’s lead to 64-44 with 3:45 to play, essentially icing the victory.
“We’ve got to grow,” Izzo said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re nowhere near (where we need to be). You can’t turn the ball over like this and really come up with anything.
“But I think we’re gonna get better and our goal is to get better every day right now.”