BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had a bad feeling before he brought his No. 20 Spartans to Bowling Green for a rare road game against the Mid-American Conference school.
He knew firsthand what could happen.
Izzo was an assistant coach with the Spartans 22 years ago when host Bowling Green stunned a top-10 Michigan State team — and for a while Tuesday night it appeared history might repeat itself.
Freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine scored 12 points apiece, and Branden Dawson added 10 to lead the Spartans to a 64-53 win over the Falcons.
“Behind closed doors I was worried to death about this game,” Izzo said. “I really was.”
The Spartans (10-2) struggled to put the game away and were tied at 45 midway through the second half when their defense clamped down, holding the Falcons to just two points over a six-minute stretch in the second half and only one field goal the rest of the way.
“If we’re going to be a good team, we have to come here and win this game,” Izzo said, crediting his defense for wearing down Bowling Green (5-5).
Bowling Green’s Chauncey Orr had tied it at 45 with 10 minutes left, but that’s when Michigan State’s defense took over.
The Spartans went on a 14-2 run highlighted by Dawson’s dunk after a steal, drawing a big cheer from the many Michigan State fans filling the Bowling Green arena.
Orr, who had a career-high 16 points, missed the final 10 minutes with cramps after hitting the tying basket. He went to the locker room twice to get treatment.
The Falcons couldn’t do anything offensively without him. It was a breakout game for Orr, the son of Falcons coach Louis Orr, who was at a loss to explain his team’s late drought.
“We were right there,” he said. “That’s tough to overcome.”
It was Michigan State’s first time back in Bowling Green since 1990 when they were ranked fifth and lost to the Falcons. Former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote vowed they’d never return.
Few Big Ten teams have been willing to go on the road against Mid-American Conference teams, though most are nearby. Bowling Green has been a giant killer at home over the years, beating three of four Big Ten teams that had visited in the last 22 years prior to Tuesday.
Izzo said he likes taking his teams into tough environments even when it might not be the smartest decision.
“I’ll probably keep doing it because I’m dumb,” he said.
Michigan State, normally one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, only had three more rebounds than the Falcons.
“They outworked us on that,” Izzo said.
But the Spartans did hold Bowling Green to 33-percent shooting from the field (19-of-58). They also shut down Bowling Green’s top scorer, holding Jordon Crawford to 10 points — six below his average.
The Spartans had to rely on Harris and Valentine with leading scorer Keith Appling having a tough shooting night.
Harris struggled for the first time all season in his last outing, when he hit just one shot from the field and missed all five 3-point attempts against Tuskegee. Appling matched his career high of 25 points last week, but scored just two in the first half and finished with nine against the Falcons.
Derrick Nix added nine points and eight rebounds for Michigan State.
The Spartans got off to another sluggish start, turning over the ball on three of their first four possessions and giving up several easy baskets in the first half.
Branden Kearney’s jumper at the buzzer put the Spartans up 34-29 at the end of the half.
Orr kept the Falcons close early on, matching his career high for a game with 11 points in the first half.