Michigan State wouldn't have had its bubble burst by suffering a loss to Iowa on Wednesday night, but an "L" certainly wouldn't have helped its NCAA tournament chances. Couple that with wanting revenge for a 20-point loss at Iowa earlier in the season and there was certainly no lack of motivation to beat the Hawkeyes, especially when you consider that it was senior night at the Breslin Center.
The Spartans started a bit shaky and struggled to pull away from Iowa in the first half, but the second half was a different story. MSU outscored Iowa by a margin of 49-34, resulting in a final score of 85-66. There were a lot of instances where Iowa tried to get into a track meet with MSU by pressuring the ball on the inbounds, and that ended up backfiring. The Spartans did a good job of running the floor and making baskets in transition, helping them turn this game into a blowout.
Had Iowa done a better job of making free throws, this might have been a much different game. The Hawkeyes went to the line a whopping 33 times, but they only made 20 of the attempts. Michigan State wasn't great from the line, going 18-27 on the night, but considering how they were playing in general in the second half, it didn't matter.
Keith Appling led all scorers with 18 points. Kalin Lucas finished with 17 points and came out toward the end of the game after he kissed center court. Mike Kebler and Durrell Summers did the same thing, keeping the senior night tradition going despite the block "S" being replaced by the Spartan logo.
With this game in the rear-view mirror, all of Michigan State's focus turns toward the Michigan game on Saturday. Not only do the Spartans want to avoid being swept by Michigan -- it hasn't happened since 1997 -- but this is a huge game for the NCAA tournament. Both teams are on the bubble, and although I wouldn't call this a must-win game for the Spartans, a victory would likely seal their tournament bid and kill Michigan's in one fell swoop.
Iowa has lost five in a row, as the team last tasted victory back on February 5th at Indiana. Most recently, the Hawkeyes were dealt an 81-68 loss at Illinois on Saturday. They have lost eight of 10 road games on the year.
Meanwhile, Michigan State is looking to rebound from a lopsided 67-47 setback at No. 8 Purdue on Sunday. The Spartans are in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings at 8-8 in league play with two games remaining. They have been tough to beat at the Breslin Center, where the Spartans have won 11 of 14.
Michigan State owns a 62-53 advantage in the all-time series, although Iowa snapped a five-game slide against the Spartans with a 72-52 win on February 2nd.
Iowa was held scoreless for the first five minutes of Saturday's contest and faced an early 10-0 hole. The Hawkeyes were able to weather the storm and eventually trimmed the margin to 38-35 early in the second half. However, Illinois answered with a huge 22-8 run to stretch its lead to 60-43 with 11:16 remaining, and the Hawkeyes could not recover. The defense was nonexistent for long spurts, as they allowed the Fighting Illini to shoot 55.4 percent from the floor. Melsahn Basabe led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds in the loss, while Jarryd Cole scored 15 and Matt Gatens finished with 14. On the season, Gatens paces the squad with 12.6 ppg, while Basabe has handled most of the dirty work in the paint, averaging 11.1 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds. Point guard Bryce Cartwright has also been a reliable presence with 10.8 points and 5.8 assists per game.
The Spartans are strong down in the blocks, as they have out-rebounded the opposition by an average of 3.7 boards per game. Kalin Lucas has started. Still, senior point guard Kalin Lucas is still the stir the straws the drink, having started all 28 games this season and leading the team with 16.7 ppg. Draymond Green is tallying 12.4 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game, while Durrell Summers is averaging 11.9 ppg and 4.0 rpg. Opponents are shooting just 42.5 percent from the floor against MSU. Eighth-ranked Purdue had no problems in Sunday's matchup, as the Boilermakers went on a 16-5 run in the first half and put together a 19-4 spurt in the second stanza to turn the game into a rout. The Spartans shot just 33.3 percent from the floor as a team, and Lucas was the only player in double figures, finishing with 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting.
Expect the Spartans to rebound with a much more balanced effort against an Iowa squad that has struggled on the road. Look for Lucas to get Green going down in the post, as the big man shot just 3-of-12 against Purdue.
GAME NOTES: The Iowa Hawkeyes take aim at their first win in nearly a month, as they visit the Breslin Center to tangle with the Michigan State Spartans in a Big Ten Conference clash.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Breslin Center (14,759) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Iowa 7-8, MSU 11-3. Away Record: Iowa 2-8, MSU 2-7. Neutral Record: Iowa 1-2, MSU 3-2. Conference Record: Iowa 3-13, MSU 8-8. Series Record: MSU leads, 62-53.