"We're going to have to play a lot better this week," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his team routed Mount St. Mary's 98-65 Friday. "What a privilege and an honor to be able to play two of the most winningest programs in the history of the NCAA in Kentucky and North Carolina in a seven-, eight-game stretch."
The Spartans (7-0) expect an equally tough challenge as they faced against then-No. 1 Kentucky which resulted in a 78-74 Spartans victory.
"They're (the Tar Heels) a pretty good team," said Keith Appling who led the Spartans with 17 points off the bench Friday. "We're going to be ready. We're going to need to do all the little things in order to come out with a win. We know how good they are."
The Spartans wrapped up another successful early part of the season -- the last time they lost at home in November was to a David Robinson-led Navy team on Nov. 29, 1986. With Friday's victory, Michigan State has won 74 straight games against unranked non-conference opponents at home.
Michigan State -- which is off to its best start since opening the 2000-01 season with a 12-0 mark -- did not start Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson due to showing up late to a required class.
"I've got a lot of jobs in this job, and one of them is to graduate guys and one is to stay accountable," Izzo said. "It was a minor little thing but it was over a class that they needed to be at. They were told that and they decided to try their way, and their way didn't work."
It was the first time Appling missed a start at Michigan State since his freshman year.
"It was really a wake-up call, lesson learned," Appling said. "I was just glad that we were able to come out and play the way we did the second half and come out with the win."
The Spartans also did not play leading-scorer Gary Harris to rest his ankle that has bothered him since injuring it during the summer. Harris, who averaged 17.7 points, sat on the bench in his warm-ups and is expected to play against North Carolina.
The Mountaineers were able to lead twice by one point and kept it close before Michigan State's three usual starters entered the game with 14:12 left in the opening half. The Spartans then went on a 33-19 run to take a 50-38 halftime lead -- the most points Michigan State had allowed in the first 20 minutes this season.
"Michigan State, obviously the No. 1 team in the country, definitely played like it today," Mountaineers coach Jamion Christian said. "Quite honestly, watching them from afar for a lot of years you can see why they're so talented and so good every year."
Michigan State turned up its defense and began running at will in the second half en route to leading by as much as 33 points. The Spartans finished the game hitting 63.1 percent of its field goals while Mount St. Mary's was limited to 32.8 percent shooting, including only 9 of 32 in the second half.
Will Miller scored 15 points for the Mountaineers (2-6) who were facing the No. 1 team for only the second time in school history. Mount St. Mary's lost to top-ranked North Carolina in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
The Spartans held the Mountaineers' two leading scorers, Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack, to 13 and 10 points. The two came into the game combining for 33.7 points a game.
The loss dropped the Mountaineers to 1-21 all-time against ranked opponents. Their win came in December 1995 against then-No. 21 Georgia Tech.