In what was largely an ugly game throughout, sophomore guard Gary Harris eventually scored 24 points to lead the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans (18-1, 7-0) past the Indiana Hoosiers (12-7, 2-4), 71-66.
Branden Dawson added 13 points and 9 rebounds and Denzel Valentine contributed 10 points and 7 rebounds to help the Spartans grind out the victory Tuesday night in a game which saw 45 fouls called between the two teams.
In the first half of Tuesday’s foul-laden game, it was a snooze fest to say the least as countless touch fouls called on both ends of the floor led to frequent halts in action. This, coupled with the fact that both teams shot just 40 percent from the floor had the the game dragging along to a 28-27 Indiana advantage at the half.
And with big man Adreian Payne once again out of the lineup for the Spartans, Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh nearly had his way with the MSU basketball defenders down low, finishing the first half with 9 points and 6 rebounds. At the time, it was evident that if Indiana could keep getting the ball inside to Vonleh, they certainly would continue to have the advantage down low if a Michigan State big could not find a way to step up.
However, in the second half, Vonleh was more-or-less held in check by the Spartan defenders, as he managed just 4 points and 5 rebounds for the rest of the game, finishing the contest with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
But the thing which gave the Spartans a huge lift in the second half was Harris. The Ind. native came out a man possessed, scoring nine quick points in the 2nd half, helping the Spartans get out to a 39-36 lead with 15:49 to go in the game.
“He’s just got to take over games,” Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s that good – to be very blunt and honest about it…He put us on his back during that stretch and made some big plays and big shots.”
However, over the next 3:55 in action, the Hoosiers went on a 10-2 run to take a 46-41 lead with 11:54 to play, prompting a Michigan State timeout.
It was at this point where the game flipped in Michigan State’s direction.
Coming out of the timeout, the Michigan State transition offense picked things up, as both Harris and Dawson led a stretch to help the Spartans build a ten point lead, 62-52, with 4:29 to play.
“(Dawson) had a two-minute stretch where he might have won the game for us with a post-up, a rebound and a rebound that led to another 3-point play,” Izzo said of Dawson’s play during Michigan State’s run in the second half.
However, it wasn’t over there. Not quite yet, as Indiana sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell, who finished the game with a team high 19 points, continued to make shots down the stretch, helping the Hoosiers cut the Michigan State lead to just three several times in the final minute of the game.
Despite Ferrell’s best attempt though, Michigan State made their free throws down the stretch, thus solidifying a 71-66 victory for the Spartans, where they’ll remain undefeated in conference play.
It was a grind it out victory for the Spartans. One in which they were clearly missing the services of Payne, as they were out-rebounded in this one 33-28.
Nevertheless, chalk it up as a win for the Spartans and chalk it up as another MVP performance from Harris, who scored 20 of his 24 points in the 2nd half to lead the Spartans to victory, all the while adding 5 steals on the defensive end of the court.
“In the second half, we were a totally different team,” Harris said. ”We all played as a team and I felt that’s what we needed.”
“(Indiana) came in with a lot of confidence and they definitely showed that in the first 30 minutes of the game but we had to just keep playing and keep fighting and we were able to pull it out,” Harris went on to say.
Up next for the No. 3 MSU Basketball team, they’ll take on in-state rival Michigan (13-4, 5-0) at home on Saturday, Jan. 25. In a game that could very well be a match up of two undefeated teams in conference play, tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET and will be televised on ESPN.