Another day, another winning streak to stop.
That’s the position Michigan State finds itself heading into Sunday’s game against Penn State, which has won three straight.
It’s the third consecutive game Michigan State will be facing a team on a roll — ending Wisconsin’s seven-game run last week and Ohio State’s four-game streak Tuesday.
“The thing about Penn State is you realize, first of all, I’ve always thought they were very well-coached,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Second of all, just beating Indiana and Iowa, that’s enough to get my attention quickly. I think they’ve got a couple of players that are playing better. Shep (Garner) has been very good and (Brandon) Taylor has been on a hot streak.
“We’re just not one of those Kentucky teams that is so talented that we can go out and not play the way we need to play. I don’t know how we’ll play, but we will not be taking anybody for granted.”
The Spartans (23-5, 10-5 Big Ten) are still holding onto the small possibility they could win a share of the Big Ten title — if they win their final three games.
And getting past the Nittany Lions, who have won four of five, is the first step.
Michigan State won the first meeting, 92-65, in University Park, Pa., but as Izzo pointed out, Penn State (15-13, 6-9) is playing better.
It began with the upset of Indiana on Feb. 6, snapping a four-game skid for Penn State. After an ugly loss at Nebraska, Penn State scored another upset by beating Iowa at home followed by wins over Rutgers and Nebraska.
Taylor is averaging 18.4 points during the five-game span, and had 24 against Indiana. He added 19 points and 10 rebounds on Thursday against Nebraska. Garner has been picking it up, as well, scoring in double figures the last three games after scoring 19 in the first meeting with Michigan State.
But focusing its defense on those players won’t be the approach for Michigan State.
“Our mindset is to get a win,” senior Denzel Valentine said. “However we’ve got to do that, we’ve got to get the win. But at the same time, we’ve got to get better, we’ve got to focus on executing and playing good defense. We’ve got to focus on what we need to do and not so much Penn State.”
With three games left, Michigan State is in a tie for fourth in the Big Ten with Wisconsin. The Spartans are pushing to stay in that top four and improve their NCAA Tournament seeding, but holding out hope for a share of the regular-season conference title isn’t dominating their thoughts.
“We can only control what we can control,” Izzo said. “And if we win our games and somebody else doesn’t screw up, we can’t win it. I don’t sit there and hope for somebody else to screw up. ... We had our chances, we didn’t do our job. A lot of teams win championships by getting a second reprieve. If that happens, God bless us.”
Penn State at Michigan State
Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
Records: Penn State 15-13 (6-9 Big Ten), No. 6 Michigan State 23-5 (10-5)
Outlook: Michigan State has won five straight in the series and five in a row at home. … The Spartans enter the game with the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big Ten, allowing 63.5 points. Penn State enters last in scoring offense, averaging 65.3 points.