Matt Costello wasn’t necessarily “who” Michigan State needed Tuesday night.
But he was “what” the No. 7-ranked Spartans needed in order to escape Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a 71-69 OT win over No. 15 Iowa.
With exception to the final few minutes, the Hawkeyes outplayed Tom Izzo’s club. Costello, though, outplayed most of his teammates—and because of his 11 points and 12 rebounds, there is no turning back for the sophomore.
Like it or not, he's next in line for Adreian Payne, who, due to a sprained right foot, could be two weeks away from returning to the lineup.
Branden Dawson's power around the rim and on the boards will be missed as well; he broke his hand during a film session and could miss five weeks.
Michigan State needs Payne and Dawson, not to mention Keith Appling, Gary Harris and the rest. However, for the time being, a steady dose of Costello could be the temporary remedy.
Brains and Brawn
Costello doesn't fill up stat sheets, and that has to change during the Payne- and Dawson-less periods. Sure, he lacks the pure numbers that impress, but a slight increase in stats wouldn't damage his good reputation.
That's fine, he doesn't have to be a star. He wasn't recruited to be a pretty-boy scorer, he was brought to East Lansing to battle.
Thus far, only momentary glimpses have been seen, but there is more to Costello's game than an occasional block or dunk. Those come in handy; his late block and dunk helped will the Spartans past Iowa.
He's 6'9" and 240 pounds—of course he's going to make those plays. But while in the paint, he's a keen distributor, something that's not always expected of a player his size.
Costello isn't selfish. Once he's drawn the defense's attention, he'll look to pass so that way Gary Harris or Keith Appling can get an easy layup.
But as the following video highlight from the Big Ten Network demonstrates, he loves going to the rack.
Costello's brawn is evident. His brains, well, those went to work versus the Hawkeyes. He saw his team struggling and knew that he had to switch gears or risk back-to-back losses, something that would have added to the sting of dropping Saturday's home game to Michigan.
|Costello vs. Payne|
|ESPN player profiles|
First and foremost, Costello isn't going to replace Payne. No one can do that. But Costello can most certainly be more than a Band-Aid. Along with Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling, Costello is the leading source of Payne relief.
Despite an 80-75 loss at the Breslin Center, Costello shone with nine points and eight rebounds versus the Wolverines. That game showed that he was on the brink and ready to emerge. Tuesday's exclamation point against the Hawkeyes could have made things official.
If Costello can contribute an eight-and-10 night in both points and rebounds, the rest of the small issues will take care of bigger issues. Consistency from Costello would probably encourage Schilling and Gauna to get it together.
Against the Hawkeyes, Schilling made a great move, drew a foul and hit a shot from the line. Gauna helped out with an aggressive layup. They're progressing and learning to contribute more often. As Costello thrives, they thrive.
Not only is it important at a personal level for Costello to peak, but it's also beneficial for the team. At the moment, the Spartans are reeling. They're watching veterans such as Keith Appling risk life and limb for two-point road wins.
What about March? Michigan State needs more than Appling during the Big Dance. This stretch will further develop Costello, but it'll serve as training wheels for Schilling, a true freshman, and Gauna, a redshirt sophomore who's just now getting decent minutes.
Think of it this way: Izzo has lost two playmakers, but he's getting a chance, for better or for worse, to engage his next line of defense. If that doesn't help, just sit back and be thankful for the backcourt—without it, things could be much worse.
Prior to losing to Michigan, Harris was on a five-game conference streak that was matched only by Nik Stauskas, who is a bad, bad man. He's at different level right now, but that discussion is for another day.
Scoring nine points against the Hawkeyes, Harris had what's called an "off-night." He's entitled to them. He can't carry the team 100 percent of the time. Because of games like the one he just escaped, Harris could use someone to pick up the pace, shoulder the burden...you know, work a little.
Costello can do that.
Appling's been rock-solid, but considering the beating he's received this year, it's quite possible that he could go down for the count sooner rather than later.
As one of the premier drivers in the country, Appling gets to the rim with efficiency and speed. Without him, there's no rim-getting.
Costello is now the No. 2 option; he's proving to be one of a few guys who can do it.
Speed? Not hardly. Efficiency? Well, he'll get high-percentage looks, so it's safe to assume he could be efficient. But he won't be smooth and glide like Appling, nor will he bully his way through the lane with finesse like Harris.
Izzo's fielding a ragtag troop that's in bad health. There's no other way to explain it. He needs newcomers, fresh faces to step into the spotlight—and it just so happens that it's time for Costello's closeup.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81