For a little while, it was time to panic, seeing Rutgers hanging tight with Michigan State. The halftime score was just 43-41 in favor of the Spartans.
But then Bryn Forbes went off. So did the rest of the Spartans, exploding in the second half to cruise to a monstrous 97-66 victory on Wednesday night in New Jersey.
But Michigan State's win — so expected that Tom Izzo all but predicted his team would beat Rutgers, which is still winless in conference play — was not the biggest news item of the evening. No, that would be Forbes, who scored a career-high 33 points and splashed home 11 triples, good for a brand-new Big Ten record.
The struggle was real for the Spartans over the first 20 minutes. After taking a nine-point lead just five minutes in, Michigan State watched Rutgers surge, the Knights using a 13-2 run to turn that deficit into a three-point lead. That run extended to 20-7 as Rutgers led by as many as four. Scarlet Knights freshman Corey Sanders had it working early, scoring 15 first-half points as Rutgers shot a scorching 66.7 percent from the field in the first half.
But after halftime, it was all Spartans. Michigan State shot 52.6 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, pouring in 54 points to Rutgers' mere 25. Forbes, who did plenty of damage in the first half with five of his 3s, scored 18 in the second half, going 6-for-8 from distance after the break. As a team, the Spartans were 8-for-13 from 3 in the second half and 16-for-31 on the game. Michigan State finished with gigantic edges in rebounding (50-24), points off turnovers (26-13) and second-chance points (19-9).
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Forbes' 33 points were a career high, and his 11 made 3-pointers set a new Big Ten record, one previously held by former Spartan Chris Hill and former Ohio State Buckeye Jon Diebler, who both hit 10 in a single game.
He was joined in double figures by four of his teammates. Eron Harris scored 15 points, and Denzel Valentine finished with 14 points plus eight rebounds and eight assists. Matt Costello tallied a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds, and Marvin Clark scored 10 points.
The Knights shot just 28.6 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes. Sanders finished with a team-high 19 points, joined in double figures by Jonathan Laurent (14) and D.J. Foreman (11).
The second-ranked Spartans improved to 25-5 overall and 12-5 in the Big Ten with their fifth straight win and their ninth win in the last 10 games. Just one regular-season game remains — against Ohio State on Saturday — before next week's Big Ten Tournament, where Michigan State will look to earn not only a league title but perhaps a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Rutgers, meanwhile, fell to 6-24 overall and 0-17 in the conference with its 17th consecutive loss. It is one defeat away from finishing the season with zero Big Ten wins. The Knights last chance to avoid a winless league schedule comes Saturday against Minnesota.