The No. 22 Michigan State Spartans (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) continued their domination of No. 24 Iowa (20-10, 9-8 Big Ten) in the Breslin Center, beating the Hawkeyes, 86-76.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Iowa has now gone 18 games without winning in East Lansing:
Perhaps the Hawkeyes should be advised down the road that college basketball games are played over two halves. In the first half, they jumped out to a 41-39 lead. Roy Devyn Marble led the team with 16 points.
Iowa was moving the ball extremely well, befuddling the Michigan State defense. Eleven assists were recorded on its 15 made first-half field goals.
Halftime couldn't have come at a worse time for the Hawkeyes, though, or a better time for the Spartans. Tom Izzo was able to get his team into the locker room and hit the reset button. It's clear that whatever he said worked, as Michigan State outscored Iowa, 47-35, in the second half.
MSU's second-half resurgence was best illustrated by the performance of Keith Appling.
Appling looked to be laboring quite a bit in the first half. It's no secret that he's been battling a wrist injury for the past month.
As somebody who handles the ball quite a bit, Appling helps set the tone offensively for Michigan State. So when he's off his game, the team struggles in a major way. It's been one of the biggest reasons a team that started out 18-1 lost six of its next 10 games.
Appling was scoreless at halftime, and not coincidentally, the Spartans were down two points.
Then, as the second half wore on, ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman noted that Appling's confidence grew and he became more of a focal point for the offense:
With the Spartans up, 50-45, five minutes into the second half, Appling hit a three-pointer—just his 33rd made field goal from downtown all season. While it didn't spark a huge run, Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis believes there's no doubt that the bucket signaled a sea change in the game:
Appling would add another three to the box score, eventually finishing with 12 points and three assists.
Iowa got as close as two points, 53-51, with 13:23 remaining. Then Michigan State went on a 24-8 run. The Hawkeyes seemed stuck in quicksand, as the harder they tried to fight their way out of their predicament, the deeper they sank.
With a little under five minutes to go, it was clear they had completely lost control of the game. Zach McCabe and Travis Trice got their arms locked up battling for position. With play dead, McCabe suddenly yanked his arm, sending Trice to the court.
College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster thought the senior forward should have been sent to the showers:
McCabe would only pick up a technical foul, but it was his fifth foul of the game, so he was effectively ejected. Russell Byrd was actually ejected for leaving the bench during the on-court mini-scuffle immediately following McCabe's takedown.
That was an ugly moment from what was an otherwise stellar senior night for Appling and Adreian Payne. Payne was second on the team in scoring, shooting 5-of-12 from the field for 14 points.
Trice had a very good game as well, leading MSU with 17 points and adding three assists.
Michigan State had already lost the Big Ten regular-season title coming into Thursday night, so the only thing left for the Spartans between here and the NCAA tournament is strengthening their seed. It will be interesting to see what this team's capable of.
With Appling healthy, it can be one of the best teams in the country. According to Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News, Izzo isn't closing the door on a trip to Dallas:
As that 4-6 stretch not too long ago demonstrated, however, it doesn't take much for the Spartans to turn into a pedestrian squad really quick.
Key Player Grades
Travis Trice, Michigan State: B+
Pretty much the only thing people will be talking about regarding Travis Trice's performance in this game is that altercation with Zach McCabe. It's a shame, too, as Trice came off the bench to have a huge impact.
He shot 4-of-5 from the field, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc. The junior guard was also a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.
Next game, Trice might want to wear some elbow pads.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: A-
Make sure this game goes into the Michigan State archives, as you don't often see Keith Appling hitting two three-pointers in the same game.
In all seriousness, the senior star ignited the Spartans in the second half. It's clear for everyone to see how much better this team is when Appling is healthy and able to lead the offense. He doesn't need to score in bunches; he just needs to be the facilitator.
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa: B
Roy Devyn Marble was a non-factor in the second half. After that scintillating performance in the first half, he would only go on to score 24 points in the game. Marble can take solace in the fact that he's now gone five games in a row with 20-plus points:
The senior guard was the biggest victim of Michigan State's increased defensive pressure.
Of course, it didn't help that Aaron White was Iowa's next-leading scorer with 10 points. It was a one-man show for the Hawkeyes and that's not enough to get it done against a team as good as the Spartans.
Michigan State wraps up the regular season on the road on Sunday in Columbus against Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes are no longer ranked, that will be a tricky game for the Spartans.
The Hawkeyes finish at home on Saturday when they welcome in Illinois for Senior Day.
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