East Lansing — For the fourth straight game, Adreian Payne sat on the bench with his right foot in a boot.
And for the fourth straight game, No. 3 Michigan State was forced to find a way to win without one of its top players. Fortunately for the Spartans, they happen to have a few more good players, including Gary Harris, the player picked before the season as the best in the Big Ten.
Michigan State needed everything the sophomore could provide Tuesday as Harris sparked a 21-6 second-half run that allowed the Spartans remain unbeaten in the Big Ten with a 71-66 victory over Indiana at the Breslin Center.
“When you look at him offensively and defensively, he is deserving of every accolade there is,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He put us on his back during that stretch and made some big plays, made some big shots, came off the screens ready to shoot. He was good defensively, too.”
Harris scored 24 points, 20 in the second half, to lead the Spartans (18-1, 7-0 Big Ten). Branden Dawson added 13 points and nine rebounds, Travis Trice scored 10 and Denzel Valentine had 10 points and seven rebounds.
“I was in foul trouble in the first half and I was begging coach to put me back in,” Harris said. “He told me to be patient. I wanted to come out in the second half and be aggressive and help my team and impact the game any way I could.”
Harris, the Indiana native, scored a career-high 26 points in the teams’ first meeting in early January. But he insisted he approaches games against the Hoosiers the same as any other opponent.
“I don’t know if there is anything extra,” said Harris, who came into the game averaging 22 points a game against Indiana. “Coach just tells me to be aggressive and has my back in these games. He just let me to go out there and play my game.”
Harris’ game allowed Michigan State to extend its winning streak to 11 games and set up a first-place showdown with Michigan Saturday. The Wolverines face Iowa tonight, and if they win, both teams will enter Saturday’s game unbeaten.
“We’re definitely excited,” guard Travis Trice said about the upcoming game with Michigan. “But after tonight, what we really need to do is focus in on getting the win.”
Much of that focus was missing in the first half as Indiana led at the break, 28-27.
And after a layup by Troy Williams put the Hoosiers up 46-41 with 11:54 to play, Michigan State was forced to take a timeout to try and stop a 10-2 Indiana run that turned a three-point Michigan State lead into a five-point deficit.
It seemed to do the trick as the Spartans went on their decisive run, led by Harris and some timely rebounds and putbacks from Branden Dawson.
“He had a two-minute stretch where he might have won the game for us,” Izzo said of Dawson.
But even after the run left Michigan State ahead, 62-52, with 4:29 to play, Indiana kept scrapping and five straight points from Yogi Ferrell cut the Michigan State lead to 62-57. A 3-pointer from Harris pushed the lead back to six before a turnover by Ferrell seemed to dash the Hoosiers’ final hopes.
But after Keith Appling split a pair of free throws, Ferrell hit a 3-pointer to cut the Michigan State lead to 66-62 with 35.2 seconds to play. Appling again split two free throws — he ended just 4-for-9 from the line — before Stanford Robinson hit a runner with 14 seconds left to make it 67-64 in favor of Michigan State. Trice then nailed a pair of free throws to push the lead back to five before Robinson had a dunk with 5.1 seconds to play. Valentine put the game way with 4.4 seconds left when he made two free throws.
“We found a way to win,” Izzo said. “We’re going to run out of luck one day if we keep playing like this.”
Ferrell led the Hoosiers (12-7, 2-4) with 19 points while Noah Vonleh had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“We believed we were going to win the game,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Really, the crux of the game was we missed some of the same shots we were making earlier in the game. Gary Harris was phenomenal, Branden Dawson was phenomenal and Keith Appling is playing solid and moving the ball and making shots as well as anybody right now when you talk about a complete guard.”