Iowa City, Iowa — Michigan State was shorthanded again on Tuesday night at Iowa, but that, of course, is nothing new.
They’ve chosen to adopt the motto of “Next man up,” much like the Spartans football team entering the Rose Bowl before former walk-on linebacker Kyler Elsworth made the biggest play of the season in the victory over Stanford.
With Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson out Tuesday, the next man was Russell Byrd, one of the more unlikely heroes on the roster. The former blue-chip recruit who has been through three foot surgeries that began before he set foot on campus has never reached his potential, mostly because of injuries.
Until Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, that is. The junior scored only three points in 18 minutes, but they were the biggest three points in No. 7 Michigan State’s 71-69 overtime victory over No. 15 Iowa.
With Michigan State leading 67-64 with 34 seconds to play, Byrd made a 3-pointer from the corner off a feed from guard Denzel Valentine for what proved to be the winning shot. It was just the fourth 3-pointer of the season for a player who hasn’t even played in 10 of Michigan State’s games this season.
“When he hit it I thought it was meant to be,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “In fact I told him earlier in the game that he was gonna make a shot. You’ve got to be happy for the kid. He’s hung in there and gone through all those surgeries. It was a big game for him.”
While his teammates were elated, afterward Byrd tried to downplay it.
“It was just a basketball play,” he said. “Zel drove and kicked and found me and I hit the shot.”
A basketball play, but one as big as the Spartans have had this season, and one that allowed them to partially erase the feelings they had on Saturday after a crushing home loss to Michigan.
“We got a bunch of guys that want to win,” senior Keith Appling said. “I feel like it speaks volumes about the character of this team. A lot of guys dig down and compete. That’s why we came out with a victory tonight.”
While handing the Hawkeyes their first home loss of the season, the Spartans (19-2, 8-1 Big Ten) got 16 points from Appling, including a huge 3-pointer in overtime, while leading scorer Gary Harris was held to nine points, the first time all season the sophomore didn’t score in double figures.
But in true next-man-up fashion, sophomore Matt Costello had career highs in points (11) and rebounds (12) and Valentine scored 12 points and grabbed six second-half rebounds.
“It just shows our toughness,” Valentine said. “Guys are stepping up and making plays for us. Everybody is here for a reason. It’s not like we just have some random players. We were recruited here for a reason, not just to sit. When the opportunity is presented, they stepped up and I’m happy for them.”
It looked bleak for MSU late in the second half when Iowa (16-5, 5-3) went on a 7-0 run to take a 57-51 lead. But Appling hit a 3-pointer and Costello scored on a dish from Harris to cut the advantage to one with 4:36 left. Appling then knocked the ball away from center Adam Woodbury and picked it up before dishing to Costello for a dunk, allowing the Spartans to regain the lead, 58-57, with 4:07 left.
Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble (Sourthfield-Lathrup) went out limping during the run but returned to the bench with less than four minutes to play and re-entered the game after Woodbury hit two free throws to put Iowa back in front with 3:54 to play. Costello answered with two free throws and Michigan State had a chance to extend the lead but turned the ball over on two straight possessions. Iowa tied the score at 60 when sophomore guard Mike Gesell split a pair of free throws with 1:25 to play.
Harris then split a pair of free throws before Gesell did the same to tie the score at 61.
Appling had a shot to put Michigan State ahead in the final half minute but missed a 3-pointer. Then Marble couldn't finish on a floater in the lane and Basabe missed the put-back attempt to send the game to overtime.
In overtime MSU struggled offensively, but Appling's 3-pointer, a tip-in from Costello and Byrd’s triple put them ahead by six. Iowa kept scrapping and had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but Gesell's runner missed.
“Mike could have gone a little more to the basket, and he kind of floated away from the defender and tried to get it in,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I won't fault him there in a situation where you're down and you’re laying the ball up at the buzzer to put it to the second overtime. I thought we had a good play there.”
Marble scored 21 for Iowa.
“I’m going to look back at this day whether we’re on top or we’re on the bottom of the final standings and it’s one of those days you appreciate you came out on top,” Izzo said. “I told my team we would have to play tough. I didn’t say well, because (Iowa) will take your heart.
“I think they have a heck of a basketball team. I feel very fortunate to come out of tonight with a win.”