EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Draymond Green and Derrick Nix didn’t have the energy they needed in a sluggish first half, so they decided to create their own.
Green scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Michigan State past Wisconsin-Milwaukee 68-55 Wednesday night in the six-team, 13-day Spartan Invitational.
Nix added 11 points for Michigan State (3-2), winners of three straight games after losses to No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Duke.
“I thought Derrick Nix was very, very good,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m really proud of Derrick. I’ll probably punch myself when I leave here for saying that. I don’t want to give him too much credit. He needed to change. But to his credit, he has.”
Nix preferred to share the credit with teammate Austin Thornton, who kept lobbying for Michigan State to feed a post player who has lost 40 pounds and gained confidence.
“Austin was telling Coach, ‘We’ve got to run plays for Nix. They can’t stop him,’” Nix said. “So we kept pounding it down to me. But it was kind of shocking with no students there. Before the game, I told everyone we had to bring our own energy and be our own Izzone,” referring to the Spartans’ student fan section.
Kaylon Williams had 14 points and James Haarsma 13 for the Panthers (4-1), who made it a competitive game for a half.
“We just learned a lesson tonight about not being patient,” Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. “When you’re not patient, that just compounds the problem. And when you turn the ball over 19 times, you’re not going to win a lot of basketball games.
The Spartans turned a four-point halftime lead into a 13-point cushion with the first nine points of the second half.
“We needed to come out and smash them in the mouth right at the beginning of the half,” Green said. “They had confidence, only being down by four, so we definitely needed to come out and get a good jump on them.”
Michigan State finished the game with a 41-35 rebound advantage. But both teams had more turnovers than assists in a game with 47 personal fouls, including 11 charges, and no flow.
“That’s a good team we played,” Izzo said. “I thought they’d be good. And they were a little better than I thought. They did a lot of good things. We didn’t seem to have a lot of energy. And foul trouble really killed us.”
Neither team could grab a significant lead in the first half until Michigan State went up 33-26 in the final two minutes. But after a held ball with 2 seconds left on the shot clock, Haarsma drained a 3-pointer for the Panthers to cut the deficit to 34-30 at the break.
But the first two minutes of the second half belonged to the Spartans. Branden Dawson opened the half with a quick layup. Adreian Payne, who sat out all but the first two minutes of the first half with two fouls, made a jumper, Green followed with a 3 from the top of the key and Dawson finished the 9-0 run in transition.
Milwaukee could never get closer than eight points the rest of the way, as Michigan State took control of the boards and got its running game in gear. But the Spartans continued to struggle at the foul line.
“We had a chance to go up 20 but missed way too many free throws,” Izzo said. “That was our fifth game in 12 or 13 days, and we seemed a little overwhelmed.”
Green could have had 30 points if he had converted half his misses around the basket and on 3s that rimmed in and out. Erratic shooting and his team’s 16 turnovers made for an ugly game.
The Panthers had 19 turnovers and just 11 assists, while shooting 39 percent from the field, 20 percent from long range and 46 percent at the line. But their worst problem was being whistled for 38 fouls and giving Michigan State 36 free throws.
“It just seemed that nothing was going our way,” Milwaukee’s Ryan Allen said. “We were carrying a heavy load. And we didn’t stick to our plan. They sped us up in the second half. And the start of that half really hurt us again.”
The Spartans were almost as undisciplined and committed foolish fouls in the opening minutes, often charging on basic moves to the basket. That led to some early benchings and strange lineups.
“We still weren’t real smooth,” Izzo said. “Keith Appling just has to get better at avoiding those charges. But everybody is falling down now. It’s charge, charge, charge.”
Michigan State will visit Eastern Michigan Sunday before hosting No. 22 Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night.
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