BLOOMINGTON — A month ago, to the day, Indiana came away with its best performance in a miserable 13-game stretch, scratching and clawing its way out of the Breslin Center with a 79-75 overtime win.
The Spartans missed a boatload of free throws, were pounded on the offensive glass and let Indiana hit the timeliest of 3-point buckets down the stretch.
And just a month later, it looked like Michigan State (23-6, 14-4 B1G) didn't learn much from that early-season loss. After allowing 20 offensive rebounds in the first meeting, the Hoosiers pounded the Spartans again, pulling down 15, resulting in 10 second chance points en route to a 63-62 win.
“Our bigs did not rebound as well as they could or should,” Izzo said of his team, which was out rebounded 10-1 on the offensive glass in the second half.
Having once led by as many as 12, the Spartans held several runs late in the game, but it was the Hoosiers’ resiliency and timely shooting, which ultimately did MSU in.
“They did a good job of knocking down shots,” Cassius Winston said, after finishing the outing with a team-high 20 points. “It seemed like every time we got it up to the point where we were going to blow it open, we made a careless mistake or they made a three.”
It was Indiana’s perimeter shooting which was the difference-maker down the stretch. The Hoosiers shot 62 percent from downtown, including a couple of clutch buckets from Devonte Green in the final six minutes.
And on a day in which he entered the game with just four 3-point baskets, Justin Smith rose to the occasion on the biggest of stages.
Smith poured in a career-high 24 points and connected on three 3-point buckets to help lead an Indiana offense which saw its premier-scorer Romeo Langford held to just nine points.
“Guys, he hits three threes, he’s hit four all year.” Izzo said of Smith’s breakout performance. “What the hell are you gonna do, guard him? Probably.”
Following up a clinic in Ann Arbor, Winston put on another dazzling game, notching his fifth double-double on the year, chipping to his 20 points and 11 assists.
Outside of Winston, the Spartans didn’t get a whole lot of production from the rest of their backcourt.
Aaron Henry and Matt McQuaid combined for just 13 points on a rough 6-of-16 clip from the floor. Henry and McQuaid logged 34 and 36 minutes respectively, which was crucial, considering Kyle Ahrens tallied just 10 minutes after re-aggravating his back at halftime.
“I thought Kyle was okay to play until right after halftime,” Izzo said of Ahrens, who played just three short minutes in the second half. “There’s an advantage and a disadvantage of a tough kid. A tough kid is always going to say he can play. When he finally says I can’t even get off the seat, you appreciate it, but you also say, why didn’t you tell me?”
Izzo recognizes there’s definite room for improvement and areas to get better, but he still feels good about his team moving forward.
“We aren’t dead yet,” Izzo said confidently of his team’s outlook in the final stretch of the season. “I’m just going to get our team ready to play Nebraska. I’m not worried about the Big Ten Championship, I’m worried about winning another game.”
Realizing the absence of Nick Ward, Izzo did shed some light on a potential timetable for his junior forward’s return.
“I’m hoping in a week to two weeks. But understand this, he’s got a broken hand,” Izzo said of Ward, who was averaging 15.1 points per game before being sidelined. “If I was a betting man, I’d say somewhere between the Michigan game and the Big Ten Tournament. But I’m getting sick of waiting for guys to be back.”
The loss drops the Spartans down a half game from first place in the Big Ten standings. They’ll return to the Breslin Center March 5 against Nebraska, before its highly-anticipated regular season-finale and rematch with Michigan four days later.