Consider it the right move by coach Tom Izzo as Michigan State beat Oakland, 77-65, at the Breslin Center.
Three freshmen — point guard Cassius Winston, guard Joshua Langford and forward Nick Ward — all got the start along with fifth-year senior forward Matt Van Dyk and sophomore guard Matt McQuaid. It was the first start for Ward, Winston and Van Dyk and it was the first time three freshmen started at the same time.
Ward and Winston, in particular, responded as Ward scored a career-high 25 and grabbed nine rebounds while shooting 11-for-17 from the free-throw line. Winston was the catalyst to the offense once again, scoring nine points but dishing out eight assists for the Spartans (8-5).
Eron Harris added 15 points while Alvin Ellis had eight.
While the spark was evident in the second half, there were signs in the first half against the Golden Grizzlies as the Spartans took leads as big as eight and seven points at various times, but they couldn't take advantage of Oakland's foul trouble and led just 34-32 at the break.
Ward was effective on the block, scoring 12 first-half points while Winston handed out four assists and Langford hit a 3-pointer late in the half while playing solid defense.
Michigan State got off to fast start in the second half, as well, taking a 49-41 lead on a jumper from Harris in the corner with just less than 14 minutes to play. The Spartans took their biggest lead at 52-41 on a 3-pointer from McQuaid with 11:50 left in the first half.
Ward then started to take over as Michigan State extended its lead to 68-55 with 4:50 to play. Oakland didn't go away, however, and cut the deficit to 71-65 in the final minute, but it couldn't get any closer as Michigan State made enough free throws.
Stevie Clark scored 13 to lead Oakland (9-3) while Jalen Hayes and Martez Walker scored 11 points each and Sherron Dorsey-Walker chipped in 10.
Oakland was playing the second game of a back-to-back after losing at the buzzer on Tuesday to Northeastern, the same team that won at Michigan State on Sunday.
Foul trouble hit the Golden Grizzlies early as Hayes committed three fouls in the opening half and played just six minutes. Clark, who had 11 points in the first half, picked up his third foul late in the half, but Brailen Neely came in and nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to close out the half.
Harris and junior Lourawls Nairn were not in the starting lineup for the first time this season, however, each saw plenty of playing time as Harris had four points while Nairn had an assist and a steal.
Michigan State entered the game hoping to close nonconference play on a high note after Sunday's loss to Northeastern. The Spartans will get a couple of days off for Christmas before returning to prepare for the Big Ten opener at Minnesota on Tuesday.
Oakland provided a familiar test as it was the fifth straight year the Spartans and Golden Grizzlies have squared off and the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. Entering the game, Michigan State had never lost to Oakland, holding a 14-0 advantage on the team from Rochester Hills.