'We have to grow': Michigan State survives scrappy Penn State, 60-58
East Lansing — Michigan State had been in this spot before, and things did not go well.
It was almost exactly a month ago when the Spartans held a 17-point second-half lead at home against Purdue, only to fumble the game away with an offense that couldn’t find its way and an inability to make the big play when it mattered as the Boilermakers pulled out the one-point victory.
That loss stung, the first of four in a row in a skid that did not end until Michigan State beat Nebraska over the weekend. So, when the Spartans found themselves in a similar position on Tuesday night in the Breslin Center against Penn State, they implored each other not to suffer a similar fate as they watched a 12-point second-half lead disappear and were staring at a four-point deficit in the final minutes.
“I made sure we understood this is winning time,” junior Aaron Henry said. “This is where we have to take the next step as a team. This is where we have to grow. It’s where we have to get better. This is what I've been talking about.”
It was hardly a masterpiece, but when you’re scrambling to keep your postseason hopes alive, any win will do.
Michigan State got that win, holding Penn State without a point for the final 3:16 of the game, getting some big defensive stops, hitting some free throws and pulling out the 60-58 victory, its second straight.
“I’m proud of this team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We’re still a work in progress. … But I would have taken a half-point win, if there ever was such a thing. I just wanted to get a win.”
The Spartans held a 12-point lead early in the second half and led by eight with just more than nine minutes to play before watching the Nittany Lions storm back to take a four-point lead with just more than three minutes to play.
Michigan State responded, though, with a tip-in from Rocket Watts on a Henry miss and four straight free throws, two from Joey Hauser and two more from Marcus Bingham, while getting some huge defensive stops in the final minute.
“(Winning) was the emphasis in the huddle,” Henry said. “Nobody was arguing, nobody was going back and forth. Everybody was on the same page to win. We messed up on an assignment at the end of the game, but the basketball Gods blessed us, as people say. We were fortunate on some of those possessions, so we still have a lot of room to grow, we honestly do it. I’m just glad we got the win tonight.
“We’ve been there before this year. I’m proud of the guys for the way they competed for 40 minutes. With practice, we’ve put an emphasis on closing on a high note. With the losses we’ve had it’s been tough, but tonight we found a way to translate practice to the game for 40 minutes.”
Henry scored 20 to lead Michigan State (10-7, 4-7 Big Ten) while Hauser added 11 points and Malik Hall chipped in 10. Hall got the start in place of Hauser, who suggested to Izzo that Hall get the nod.
“That takes a man to do that,” Izzo said. “And it really takes a man to go and back it up by playing your butt off. So we get 21 points out of that position and seven rebounds. And Joey hits those two big free throws, Malik gets a couple big rebounds. I thought that was a big help for us.”
John Harrar scored 17 to lead Penn State (7-9, 4-8) while Myreon Jones scored 15 for the Nittany Lions, who missed their last six shots, including an open 3-pointer from Myles Dread with 16 seconds to play that would have given Penn State the lead.
“Hard fought game and I’m proud of the guys for the way they came back in the second half,” Penn State interim coach Jim Ferry said. “We lost a tough one. We gave up some offensive rebounds late in the game when we were getting stops and with 16 seconds to go we executed a good play and Myles had a great look.
“The guys are devastated right now, but we’ve got to bounce back.”
Michigan State had a solid defensive effort in the first half and used a 12-0 run to take control of the game in the early going.
After trading baskets to begin the game, the Spartans ran off 12 straight points to turn a 6-5 deficit into a 17-6 lead as they made five of their first seven shots while Penn State opened the game just 3-for-13 from the field.
Penn State started hitting the glass while Michigan State began to turn the ball over. But the Nittany Lions were only 1-for-10 from 3-point range and had trouble sustaining their offense as Michigan State got the lead back to 10 in the final minute thanks to a 3-pointer from Hauser to put the Spartans up 32-22.
Penn State got a late bucket from Sam Sessoms and Watts’ final shot attempt was knocked away as the Spartans headed to the halftime locker room with a 32-24 lead.
Michigan State had a quick start to the second half, pushing the lead to 36-24, but it wasn’t long before Penn State clawed back, putting together a 17-5 run to tie the game at 41 with 11:52 to play on a 3-pointer from Sessoms.
Michigan State responded with a 9-2 run, but Jones was left open for a 3-pointer and Dread buried one from the top of the key to pull the Nittany Lions within 51-48 with just more than eight minutes left in the game. Penn State eventually regained the lead as Jones scored six straight points, putting the Nittany Lions up, 56-54, with 4:59 to play. The lead went to 58-54 before MSU scored the last six points of the game and held Penn State off the board for the final 3:16.
Michigan State now prepares to host Iowa on Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to working and getting the chance to play Iowa, which will be a big game for us,” Izzo said. “They’re all big this time of year, but you win two in a row … and I’m proud of them and I’m pleased and excited to go to work tomorrow, tonight right now. Let’s go.”