The No. 11 men’s basketball team now can look to Saturday’s tilt with No. 3 Ohio State after pulling out a 77-57 victory against Penn State on Wednesday night.
MSU (19-5 overall, 8-3 Big Ten) pulled off the rough conference win, despite the first points coming with 16:38 left in the first half when sophomore guard Keith Appling hit two free throws.
Senior forward Draymond Green said he wasn’t thinking about Saturday’s game and it was his job to make sure his team was on the same page.
“It was very important to get this win,” Green said. “Every single game is a big game when you’re in the position we’re in. It’s not just about Saturday, it’s about Michigan State as well.
“You can’t get better if you’re looking forward to something else.”
Appling scored the game’s first field goal with 15:10 left in the half.
MSU built up a 9-0 lead before Penn State (10-15, 2-10) hit a three, and the Spartans eventually built up a 22-point lead.
The Spartans shot 26.7 percent in the first half, but used a 65.2 percent in the second half to up the game percentage to 43.4.
The second half started a little quicker with MSU picking up five points in the first 40 seconds.
Penn State began to chip away at the MSU lead and whittled it down to six with 7:19 left in the game. The Nittany Lions shot 53.6 percent in the second half, 38.5 percent for the game.
“We were up big, and were kind of relaxed,” sophomore guard Keith Appling said. “We had to get the focus back in and get it back going.”
Green said the offense also got sloppy in the Penn State run, taking a lot more jump shots.
“Didn’t get the ball inside,” he said. “But when you’re not defending, you’re not scoring, you’re going to lose a lead or get blown out.”
The Spartans again were led by Green, who notched his 13th double-double of the season. Green scored 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out five assists.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo said Green likely should have had his third career triple-double if players knew how to finish around the basket.
But Green was a little more understanding.
“If it was meant to happen, it woulda happened,” he said. “We do have to do a better job of catching and finishing, and they’ll get better.”
With 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds, Appling led a cohort of solid contributors. Sophomore center Adreian Payne scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds, while freshman guard Branden Dawson added 12 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought Appling did really good in everything except looking for his shot,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “He did a hell of a job on (Penn State guard Tim) Frazier.”
Now the talk can begin on Saturday’s game for the Big Ten lead. Penn state, led by head coach Patrick Chambers, lost to the Buckeyes, 78-54, on Jan. 25.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Chambers said. “It’s going to go down to the wire.”