Photo courtesy CBS Sports

For a brief, shining moment it was Rutgers’ house.  For the first half of Wednesday’s game, the Scarlet Knights (12-14, 5-11) were in the lead by as many as 11 points.  They took control early from Michigan State (22-5, 13-3), capitalizing on the loss of Spartan Nick Ward due to a fractured left hand.

Michigan State, meanwhile, had to adjust on the fly.

Rutgers played coolly and confidently.  In fact, they looked like Michigan State.  The Spartans seemed lost without Ward.  Michigan State had only a 30 percent shot average and eight turnovers in the first half.

Cassius Winston stepped into the gap with a layup, a three-point jumper, and an assist to Thomas Kithier.  Another jumper made by Aaron Henry (assisted by Xavier Tillman) put Michigan State ahead, 15-9.  It seemed Michigan State fans’ fears were laid to rest.  But a hook-and-hold foul committed by Kither sent things into a tailspin.  Rutgers started a 19-3 run that left the Spartans scrambling.  At halftime the score was 32-25, Rutgers leading.  Michigan State fans were quiet.  Ward looked apprehensive.  Maybe this was it.  Maybe Rutgers would win.

It did look that way during the second half.  Rutgers scored 4 points, with 2 layups made by Knight Montez Mathis.  But fouls made by Ron Harper Jr. and Myles Johnson let Michigan State close the gap to 36-33, Rutgers leading.  Try as the Spartans might, Rutgers kept pulling ahead.  And then an amazing thing happened.

Five Michigan State defensive rebounds set Matt McQuaid up for a three-point jumper that tied the score 40-40.  State fans went wild.  Tom Izzo roared.

Rutgers looked shocked.  Something went out of them.  Their earlier swagger disappeared.  Though not down and by no means out, whatever psychological edge the Knights had over the Spartans was now gone.  A layup made by Cassius Winston drove the point home.  From then on, the Spartans were in the lead with Winston in command.

A frustrated Rutgers started fouling out against Michigan State.  Fouling against the Spartans is bad medicine.  Their free throw percentage of 73.6, coupled at making shots at key points in the game, is just asking for trouble.  Michigan State made 20 of 22 foul shots overall last night.  Fouling against Michigan State is the equivalent of offering the Spartans full room service.

Winston and Xavier Tillman both hit career highs last night, scoring 28 and 19 points respectively.  Ward may be down, but the Spartans are clearly not out.