The Spartans (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) overcame an awful start, trailing by nine in the opening minutes, to lead 36-30 at halftime and by as much as 16 points in the second half.
The Scarlet Knights (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) pulled within two points twice, but gave up seven straight points to trail 50-41 midway through the second half to end their comeback hopes.
“We had a run at the beginning of the game and they had the next run,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We were never able to get over the hill against a good team.”
Michigan State freshman reserve Jaxon Kohler had career highs with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Joey Hauser scored 13 points, Tyson Walker had 12 and Jaden Akins scored 11 for the Spartans, who have won eight of their last 10 games.
“It was a big win for us,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “That is a very good team. They’re the only team to beat Purdue.”
Rutgers’ Clifford Omoruyi had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Paul Mulcahy scored 12 and Caleb McConnell added 11 points for the Scarlet Knights, who had won seven of their previous eight.
Rutgers: Despite the setback, the defensive-minded and tough team is on pace to put the program into three straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time in school history.
“When I took over the job, we were in 14th place and it’s a real hard league to move up,” said Pikiell, who was hired in 2016. “I got some guys that took on the challenge of coming to a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament and they wanted to be a part of that.”
Michigan State: Izzo is tough to please, but even is happy with how competitive his thin team has been this season.
“We’re ahead of where I thought we would be when the season started and yet, I think we’ve been a mixed bag of nuts,” Izzo said. “We’re not real polished.”
Michigan State, which didn’t make a 3-pointer in last week’s loss at Illinois, connected on 12 of 22 shots beyond the arc. Rutgers, meanwhile, made just 2 of 17 3-pointers.
“Giving up that percentage from 3 and not being able to generate any of that for us really hurt,” Pikiell said.
Rutgers senior guard Cam Spencer was named the co-Big Ten player of the week after averaging 22 points last week, but he missed 11 of 14 shots and finished with eight points.
The Spartans put their three freshmen on the court and Izzo was pleasantly surprised with how well Kohler, center Carson Cooper and point guard Tre Holloman performed.
“That was a little scary, but it worked out,” Izzo said.
Rutgers is in the AP Top 25 for the first time this season, but doesn’t play again this week and will likely fall out of the poll.
“We get a little respect, and that’s nice, but you have to earn it every week in this league,” Pikiell said.
Rutgers: Hosts Penn State on Tuesday night.
Michigan State: At Indiana on Sunday.
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