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East Lansing — After Michigan State beat Illinois last weekend, both coaches were amazed at the physical nature of the game.

Illinois coach John Groce likened it to a heavyweight boxing match, while Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he couldn't remember a game that physical in more than 10 years.

And what made the victory even more satisfying for Izzo was that his Spartans proved they could adapt to the style of play.

"What's nice for me is I was questioning whether we could match that, and I think we at least proved if we can get into a fistfight, we can participate now," Izzo said. "Before I didn't think we were as good at it or could participate."

That style isn't the way it's played every night these days, especially with an emphasis on "freedom of movement" from the officials. And though the Spartans have plenty of history playing physically, they have been able to play with just about every team on their schedule.

Included in that was Thursday's game against Minnesota, a team that pressures the ball the length of the court and puts an emphasis on athleticism. Michigan State closes the season against Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana.

"(Minnesota) is very athletic and creates a lot of havoc," Izzo said. "Purdue, they're a very athletic, strong team and Wisconsin, they're a very big team, and Indiana, they're a super athletic team. So different kinds of teams of the four we have left, but it's nice to know you've got to be able to play different styles.

"That was the strength of this program for years. You want to play smash-mouth? Fine. You want to run and gun? Fine. You want to press? Fine. I mean, nothing bothered us for years. I didn't think this team was as good as that, and so we needed to be in a smash-mouth game and figure a way to compete, and hopefully we can build on that now."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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