It was Senior Night, but it seemed like every Spartan had their moment.
In its final home game of the season, No. 22 MSU used a high-energy second half to top No. 24 Iowa, 86-76. It truly was a team effort, as each white jersey shared the spotlight to help MSU clinch a first-round bye in next weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.
“It means a lot - I wanted to go out on the right note,” senior guard Keith Appling said. “The guys kind of rallied around me, Adreian (Payne) and Dan (Chapman), and kind of made sure they sent us out on the right note.”
In the first half, it was sophomore guard Denzel Valentine, who had 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Gary Harris also lit it up in the first half, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the game’s first 20 minutes.
In the second half, it was junior guard Travis Trice, who filled it up with 13 second-half points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field. It also was senior guard Keith Appling, who made the Breslin Center crowd erupt with each of his 12 points.
“To me, that means our fans took some ownership in him,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s been going through hell, and it wasn’t the three weeks he was out, it was the three weeks before that, and his world kind of dropped out from under him.”
Senior forward Adreian Payne also made his last game on the Breslin floor count, scoring 14 points. Junior forward Branden Dawson was back to his old form too, tallying three blocks that made him look flat-out mean.
After the game, Izzo called Dawson the “unsung hero” of the game, and pointed out his stat line - eight points, seven rebounds and five steals. He also applauded Dawson on his second half defense against Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble, who was held to 2-of-7 shooting in the second half.
“Dawson kept saying ‘give him to me’ in the huddle,” Izzo said. “And that for us was a step in the right direction.”
Marble was too much for MSU in the first half, scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. He ended as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points.
The game was won by MSU in the second half after the Spartans exited the first half trailing 41-39. Iowa answered whatever run the Spartans went on in the first half, but the second half was a different story.
After the game, ironically wearing a “Lazy But Talented” shirt while sitting in front of his locker, Appling summed up the biggest difference between the two halves.
“Our energy,” Appling said. “Our energy and intensity on the defensive end. That allowed us to get easy baskets in transition.”
Just like the first half, MSU forced Iowa into four turnovers within the first four minutes of the half. It wasn’t all in MSU’s favor though, as the Spartans were whistled for five fouls in less than a minute.
The MSU crowd was in a frenzy watching the rapid-fire whistling, causing energy to flow throughout the building. It may have helped MSU kick off the half on a 7-0 run - a run too dangerous for Iowa to recover from.
Shortly after the 7-0 run, Appling buried a 3-pointer to take a 53-45 lead. It was more than an eight-point lead though, as the bucket gave him 1,470 career points, enough to help him pass Charlie Bell as No. 18 on the all-time scoring list.
The closest the Hawkeyes got to the lead was 53-51 with more than 12 minutes remaining, but MSU went on a short 6-0 run to give themselves a cushion.
With 4:45 left on the clock, the emotions of the game got a tad out of hand, as it appeared Trice was thrown to the ground after being tangled up with Iowa’s Zach McCabe. Both Trice and McCabe were issued personal fouls, and McCabe also was given a technical foul. Junior forward Russell Byrd was ejected from the game for leaving the bench.
The fouls didn’t have much effect on the game, as MSU was up by 17 after Trice’s two free throws. The big lead allowed senior walk-on Dan Chapman to play in his final game at Breslin Center. Before he entered the court, Appling and Payne kissed the Spartan logo “goodbye.”
If there is any downside for MSU, it was the 16 turnovers they committed - the same number they committed against Illinois on Saturday .
That doesn’t put a blemish on a Senior Night that saw MSU play its best game in weeks.
“I think this is the first time we’ve felt we were together and we played together as a team,” Payne said. “It was a fun game ... everyone got to play and contribute and it was just a great win.”
The Spartans will close the curtain on their regular season in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday as they travel to face Ohio State.