No. 3 Spartans Top Friars

Life without Mateen Cleaves is going to take getting used to.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo got to chat with his star point guard, out until January with a stress fracture, about the Spartans' strategy and sluggish play Thursday.

"He's a pretty good assistant coach," Izzo said. "But I'm tired of having him there. I want him on the floor."

It took longer than expected, but No. 3 Michigan State and Morris Peterson finally played up to their Final Four reputation, defeating Providence 82-58 to start the Puerto Rico Shootout.

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  • Peterson had a power dunk and a 3-pointer during a 16-0 run early in the second half that turned a tight game into a blowout at Eugenio Guerra Sports Complex.

    Peterson finished with 18 points, while Charlie Bell added 15 points for Michigan State (2-0).

    The Spartans play either South Carolina or Virginia on Friday. The Friars (1-2) face the Gamecocks-Cavaliers loser in the three-day holiday tournament.

    Erron Maxey led Providence with 22 points, 13 in the first half.

    Minus Cleaves, an All-American guard, the Spartans came out a lot shakier than the team that went to the Final Four this past spring.

    "You can see that," Izzo said. "Plays that should have gone for easy layups went for jump shots. It's going to take a while to adjust."

    Cleaves thought his replacement, David Thomas, did well. Thomas made his only shot, had a steal and four of Michigan State's 23 turnovers.

    "We still got the ball to the right people," said Peterson.

    But it was easy to see how much they were missing with Cleaves on crutches. They made just eight of their first 19 free throws. They had 12 turnovers in the first half. They committed three straight backcourt turnovers all leading to Providence baskets when the Friars turned on the press as the lead shrank from 10 points to 31-29.

    "When I got hurt, we knew we'd get pressed the whole game," Cleaves said. "They got a steal here and there, but that will happen when you press as much as they do. We kept bouncing back, called a time, regrouped and responded."

    Then the Spartans got it going.

    A.J. Granger had two free throws. Andre Hutson made a three-point play and Peterson's steal and pass to a cutting Charlie Bell ended a 7-0 run that closed the half with Michigan State ahead 38-29. Peterson took control after the break with his dunk and long-range basket. His nifty drive finished the run and put the Spartans up 47-29.

    Peterson says he's taken on some of Cleaves' roles in his absence. "I'm trying to break the press a little more, do the little things that can help us," Peterson said. "But that's what leadership's all about."

    Providence coach Tim Welsh said his team tried to trip up Michigan State, but the Spartans' talent prevailed. "We jabbed at them for a while, but it's hard when they can wear you down like that," he said.

    It will only get better once Cleaves returns sometime in January. Besides talking with his coach, Cleaves bounced up occasionally, his right foot protected in a black cast, to cheer his teammates. He would hop out with the team on timeouts, then hop back to his seat. He was still a focus of Michigan State fans they brought more than 200 to the game who snapped photos of him in green shorts and a Spartans shirt.

    "It's going to take me some time to get used to this," Izzo said.

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