Michigan State sent a big message Tuesday evening. That message? Don’t sleep on the Spartans in the B1G race.

A lot of eyes have been on Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, three top-5 teams to start the season. But it was Tom Izzo’s Spartans that earned a key non-conference victory on the road against Duke.

Believe it or not, Michigan State looked awful to start the game against Duke. Joey Hauser and Thomas Kithier picked up two early fouls apiece and spent most of the first half on the bench. That allowed the Blue Devils to build a 10-point lead just minutes after tipoff, but that is when the Spartans turned things on.

Offensively, the charge was led by Rocket Watts and Julius Marble II. It was the aggressiveness of Watts that allowed Michigan State to hang around with a 37-33 halftime lead before hitting the gas with a 14-3 stretch to open action after the break.

In the end, the Spartans were able to hang on for a 75-69 victory for the program’s first win inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Key Player: This one is definitely split between Watts and Marble. Watts put up a team-high 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. Though his work as a distributor and true point guard is still a work in progress, Watts remains a lethal scorer that is destructive off the dribble. His aggressive playmaking was crucial after Michigan State fell behind early.

For Marble, he saw his playing time receive a boost due to the early foul trouble of Hauser and Kithier, and he made the most of it. Marble put up a career-high 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the floor. It was definitely a confidence-building performance for the sophomore.

Key Stat: 21.7%, the shooting percentage of the Blue Devils from three-point range. Duke shot 5-for-23 from deep against a tight Michigan State defense that never allowed Coach K’s team to find the rhythm.

Key Play: Other than sinking enough free throws to secure the win late, we’re going with this emphatic jam by Marble.

What it means moving forward: The Spartans may not be the favorites in the B1G, but they look poised to compete for another conference title. Obviously, this season is bound to be a strange one during the COVID pandemic so this could change, but Michigan State looks deep and has aced early-season tests against Notre Dame and Duke. The schedule eases up a bit with games against Detroit and Western Michigan on tap before another ACC road trip against No. 15 Virginia on Dec. 9.