Minneapolis — Jaren Jackson Jr. didn’t want to face any more questions about getting into foul trouble.
The Michigan State freshman has seen his playing time hampered severely at times this season — the last five games, especially — as his propensity to foul early and often has left him on the bench instead of making an impact on the court.
On Tuesday night at Minnesota, Jackson showed why it’s so important.
Instead of drawing whistles Jackson was busy dominating the overmatched Golden Gophers, scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting while grabbing six rebounds and blocking three shots to lead No. 2 Michigan State an 87-57 victory at Williams Arena.
“It’s great because I don’t have to come in here and talk to you guys about my foul trouble,” Jackson said while laughing. “The main thing was to stay on the floor and do more for my teammates, and not playing 12, 13 minutes is nice.
“I have to give it to my teammates. They got me the ball in the right spots. Miles (Bridges) was unselfish tonight and hit me in the right positions. He’s just an unselfish superstar and that doesn’t happen much. It’s a rare quality he had and it was nice he was able to get me the ball.”
Bridges had just five points on 1-for-7 shooting, but he wasn’t needed for the Spartans (25-3, 13-2 Big Ten), who are off to the best start in program history.
Nick Ward added 13 points and nine rebounds while Cassius Winston scored 12 on four 3-pointers, all in the first half.
Winston and Jackson were each 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the first half as the Spartans got off to a blistering start.
Winston cooled in the second half, but Jackson continued the onslaught, attacking the basket and scoring from different points on the court.
“Jaren had a big night because we got him the ball,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He got it in the right spot and I was really excited about how he played at three different levels — we got it to him on the three, we got it to him in the post a couple times, and he got it in the mid-range a couple times when he made some moves and drove and spun. So, I thought he hit all three levels, which is what we wanted him to do.
“This was definitely his best game as far as both ends of the court.”
The Spartans finished 14-for-22 (64 percent) from 3-point range, two shy of their season-high of the 16 3-pointers it made at home against Maryland as Michigan State remains on the heels of Ohio State in the chase for the Big Ten title. The Spartans have three games remaining while the Buckeyes (22-5, 13-1) still have four to play with a game at Penn State on Thursday.
Michigan State will keep the pressure on if it plays like it did Tuesday.
The Gophers are short-handed, but with Jackson firing on all cylinders, the Spartans were hard to stop.
“That makes us dangerous,” Winston said of Jackson. “Having a player like that on any team is going to open it up, make you a lot better. If he’s out there playing, getting good shots, making plays, it helps himself out and our team out a lot.”
Minnesota had few answers, and after cutting the margin to 12 late in the first half, the Gophers never challenged. Isaiah Washington scored 18 to lead Minnesota (14-14, 3-12) while Jordan Murphy added 16 points and Nate Mason scored 14.
The Gophers played without Amir Coffey (shoulder) and Dupree McBrayer (leg) as Reggie Lynch remains suspended.
“It’s hard. It’s hard,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “But nobody is going to feel sorry for us. I just have to keep these guys scratching and clawing, staying positive. It’s tough to do against Michigan State, but we get a little time off to regroup and get our confidence back…and continue to move forward.”
Michigan State was on fire for most of the first half, making five of its first six – all 3-pointers. The first three came from Winston followed by two straight from Jackson. A Bridges 3 had the Spartans ahead 18-6.
The Spartans made eight of their first nine from 3-point range, the only miss coming from Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. when the senior guard believed the shot clock was winding down. Michigan State closed the first half 10-for-12 from 3-point range as Jackson and Winston were each 4-for-4.
The Gophers hit four 3s in the first half, the last from Mason in the final seconds to cut Michigan State’s lead to 43-25 headed to the locker room. However, Michigan State continued to pull away in the second half pushing the lead to 33 in the final four minutes.
It was one of Michigan State’s most complete performances, a lot of that thanks to its star freshman.
“Jaren is a special player,” Izzo said. “He’s getting better every day.”