One good half for Michigan State is good enough vs. Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Down at halftime, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo threatened to really leave his listless team behind — as in an extra night on the road in Happy Valley.
"I told them we were staying here New Year’s," Izzo said. "Everything’s closed down here. It would have been a good place to keep them."
Truth is, the Spartans were getting on their plane no matter the outcome, and it was only a matter of time before they got rolling against overmatched Penn State.
Branden Dawson scored 20 points, Keith Appling had 14 and No. 5 Michigan State clamped down on defense in the second half to beat Penn State 79-63 on Tuesday night.
Gary Harris added 13 points and Travis Trice had 12 for the Spartans (12-1, 1-0) in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Dawson keyed a second-half charge to help the Spartans rally from a halftime deficit and win their fifth straight game.
"Our halftime wasn’t a lot of fun," Izzo said. "What you always hope is that players respond."
Did they ever.
The Spartans were in total control in the second half, and hit 10 of 20 3-pointers overall to turn this one into a rout. They limited Penn State to 16 points on 5-of-20 shooting in the second half, a sure sign there’s a still a huge gap between the programs.
"That’s what their team has got to do now, it’s got to grow," Izzo said.
Brandon Taylor had 18 points for the Nittany Lions (9-5, 0-1) and D.J. Newbill scored 17. Newbill had three 3s and 14 points in the first half to keep the upset bid alive. But a second-half shooting funk for the Nittany Lions cost them against the preseason conference favorite.
Penn State failed to have an assist in the second half and made only 2 of 9 3-point attempts.
"I think we let missing shots dictate our effort," coach Pat Chambers said. "It’s unfortunate, because the team I envisioned played in the first half."
The Spartans needed Harris to drive the offense and squash Penn State’s surprising seven-point halftime lead.
Harris, the preseason Big Ten player of the year, scored five quick points to open the second half and put the Spartans ahead. But he went to the bench with his third foul only 3 minutes into the half, leaving the Spartans without their second-leading scorer for a spell.
It didn’t matter who was in the game for the Spartans, the Nittany Lions kept making 3s as if they were layups. Tim Frazier tied it at 52-all on Penn State’s eighth 3 (on 14 attempts) — a stout number after the team missed nine of 11 attempts in the last game against Mount St. Mary’s.
Appling, though, sparked Michigan State’s long-range game with consecutive 3s for a seven-point lead. Dawson got the job done inside, scoring eight straight points on three layups and two free throws, for a 68-55 lead, all but ending Penn State’s upset hopes.
The Nittany Lions went cold from outside, and Michigan State used 3s and second-chance points off a whopping rebounding edge (45-26).
"We all rallied together as a team," Dawson said.
Izzo tied Indiana’s Branch McCracken for fifth place on the Big Ten career wins list with 210.
Penn State had its best non-conference record in five seasons and played for 20 minutes like a team capable of kicking off conference play with a shocker.
"We know we’re a good team," Newbill said. "We’ve got to become a great team."
The Nittany Lions sure were great in the first half, making their 36-percent 3-point shooting number worthless, hitting one after another to race to a 12-point lead.
Newbill made a 3, then followed with a four-point play on the next possession for a 17-9 lead. Taylor hit consecutive 3s for a 25-14 lead that had a small, yet wildly enthusiastic, crowd on their feet.
Michigan State appeared to establish its dominance with a 12-0 run to take the lead until Penn State got hot again from 3-point range. Donovan Jack hit PSU’s sixth 3 of the half for a 32-29 lead and Newbill’s third 3 of the half helped the Nittany Lions take a 47-40 lead.
The Nittany Lions connected on seven of 12 3-pointers in the half.
"They jumped on us," Trice said. "They had a game plan how they wanted to defend us and they executed."
Both programs had bigger concerns than the Big Ten opener: No. 4 Michigan State was in Pasadena, Calif., prepping for No. 5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl and the Nittany Lions are in limbo as Bill O’Brien decides if he wants to stay loyal to his team or bolt for the NFL.