Izzo looks forward to brief break in schedule after OT win
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Tom Izzo sounded glad the game was over.
It always means a lot for Michigan State to beat Michigan, but there was a sense that Izzo and his team had a bit less to gain this time, playing at home against a rival that has been dealing with major injury problems. The Spartans ended up being pushed to overtime Sunday, but they shut the Wolverines out in the extra session to win 76-66 -- and now Michigan State doesn't have to play again until next weekend.
"All in all, it was a win," Izzo said after the game. "I think it is a good week to have off. I don't know if we adjusted well to the week we came off of, but we need to shore up some things. Yet, we're 6-3 and tied for second in the league. That ain't all bad."
The Spartans (15-7, 6-3) have reached the halfway point of the Big Ten season, and they are part of a five-way tie for second place behind No. 5 Wisconsin. After losing Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling off last season's team, Michigan State has adjusted reasonably well. If overtime losses to Notre Dame and Maryland had gone the other way, the outlook for the Spartans might look a lot better.
Of course, Michigan State also needed overtime to beat Northwestern and injury-plagued Michigan -- and both those games were in East Lansing.
"We just haven't put it all together. We can't get guys putting it together," Izzo said. "When (Travis) Trice is playing well, (Denzel) Valentine isn't. (Branden) Dawson is better and the most consistent player."
Dawson had 19 points and 10 rebounds Sunday -- the senior's sixth double-double in his last eight games. Valentine was terrific as well, finishing with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
The Wolverines have given other teams problems recently with zone defense, but the Spartans didn't seem all that bothered.
"I was really impressed by Valentine," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Obviously, they have a lot of other good players on the team as well but I thought he really stood out in that he was able to pick us apart with different things we did one-on-one, zones, everything. When you have a tall guy who can really see like that, and can shoot, it really makes your team really go."
Michigan State settled in nicely after a poor start offensively, but the Spartans allowed Michigan to hang around. Spike Albrecht and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 18 points each for the Wolverines before Michigan State held Michigan scoreless in overtime.
Payne and Harris were both first-round draft picks last year, and this season's Michigan State team doesn't boast quite as much star power, but when Dawson and Valentine are both playing well, the Spartans can be tough to beat. Trice is a 40-percent shooter from 3-point range for his career, although he's only at 36 percent this season.
Junior Matt Costello gave Michigan State a lift in overtime Sunday and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Michigan State was ranked No. 37 in the RPI as of Monday afternoon, according to rpiforecast.com. Unlike Michigan, the Spartans don't seem to be in too much danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but with so many teams deadlocked in the Big Ten standings, it's hard to say where Michigan State will end up.
The second half of the conference slate starts Saturday for the Spartans, when they host Illinois. A home game against Ohio State looms the following weekend, and that contest could be crucial if Michigan State wants to establish itself as the top threat to Wisconsin for the regular-season title.
"We have to get better if we're going to have a chance later in the season, at the end of the year," Izzo said. "If you ever needed a week off, this one is needed."