PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Last season, Tom Izzo wanted to leave Nick Ward in New Jersey after a poor game against Rutgers.

gettyimages 1066985296 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans attempts a shot as Caleb McConnell #22 and Eugene Omoruyi #5 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights defend during the first half of a college basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan State defeated Rutgers 78-67. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images,)

Friday night, Michigan State’s coach and the rest of the Spartans were singing Ward’s praises.

gettyimages 1066971252 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans attempts a shot as Shaquille Doorson #2 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights defends during the first half of a college basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan State defeated Rutgers 78-67. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images,)

Cassius Winston scored 22 points and Ward added 20 to lead No. 9 Michigan State past Rutgers 78-69 in the Big Ten opener Friday night.

gettyimages 1066985048 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans drives to the basket as Caleb McConnell #22 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights defends during the second half of a college basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan State defeated Rutgers 78-67. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images,)

“He’s just matured,” Winston said of Ward. “He’s grown mentally and that’s helping his game a lot, so he was able to take his time passing the ball so teams can’t really double team him like that. He’s making good decisions with the basketball, so once you can’t double him, it’s hard to guard him.”

Last year Ward only had three points in 11 minutes, spending most of the game on the bench.

gettyimages 1065998190 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

LOUISVILLE, KY – NOVEMBER 27: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on November 27, 2018, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Ward has selective amnesia of that night, with a deadpanned “nothing,” when asked what he remembers from that game.

“The only thing that was on my mind from last year was that I’m not sitting right there (on the bench),” Ward said.

gettyimages 1066958838 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans attempts a shot as Myles Johnson #15 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights defends during the first half of a college basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images,)

After a back-and-forth first half, where Rutgers led much of the first 10 minutes, Winston hit a 3-pointer to give Michigan State (5-2) the 39-37 lead over Rutgers (5-2) at the break.

Rutgers would open the second half with a 3-pointer by Peter Kiss from the top of the arc to retake the lead, but a quick 6-0 run from Michigan State caused Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell to call timeout down 45-40 with 17:54 to go. The deficit would eventually balloon to 13.

“I don’t know if there was a huge difference between the first and second half,” Baker said. “We just came up a little short.”

gettyimages 925670384 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 28: Shaquille Doorson #2 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights scores a basket in the second half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on February 28, 2018, in New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The Scarlet Knights cut it to seven after Shaquille Doorson hit a pair of free throws and had a put-back dunk to cap off a 6-0 run by Rutgers. Issa Thiam’s 3-pointer made it 63-57 with 5:17 to go, but that’s the closest Rutgers would come.

gettyimages 1066985416 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Eugene Omoruyi #5 of Rutgers Scarlet Knights attempts a shot as Kenny Goins #25 of the Michigan State Spartans defends during the second half of a college basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan State defeated Rutgers 78-67. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Eugene Omoruyi led Rutgers with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: The Spartans are back to their winning ways after an overtime loss at Louisville ended a five-game winning streak. The game in Piscataway is one of five road games in a two-week span for Michigan State.

gettyimages 1066984856 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts to a call during the second half of a college basketball game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan State defeated Rutgers 78-67. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images,)

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have rebounded from their only loss of the year with three straight victories, but are in the midst of a tough three-game stretch vs. teams in the Top 25 or receiving votes in six days.

NEVER LOST

Michigan State is now 8-0 vs. Rutgers in a series dating back to 1970. However, Rutgers just recently joined the Big Ten, so the two have played each other six times in the last four years.

INJURY UPDATE

Izzo did not have an update on the injured Matt McQuaid, who did not travel for the second straight game due to a thigh bruise.

“There’s no secret. He’s day-to-day and I’ll find out more tomorrow,” Izzo said. “If I was a betting man I’d really question it for Monday if he’s going to come back from that (game at Iowa).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

gettyimages 1066984742 No. 9 Michigan State Edges Rutgers 78 69

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 30: Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts after a basket against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half of a college basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center on November 30, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan State defeated Rutgers 78-67. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images,)

After a loss at Louisville, Michigan State needed a win if they have any hope of staying in the Top 10.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: At Iowa Monday night.

Rutgers: At No. 22 Wisconsin Monday night.

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