IOWA CITY, Iowa
It was a game that can hardly be described as pretty, but in the end it was all Michigan State really needed.
Branden Dawson was going hard, Keith Appling was making clutch free throws and Gary Harris was fighting through an aching shoulder, but the final score is the only thing that mattered.
Michigan State overcame a hot start from Iowa and used a 16-4 run in the second half to rally for a 62-59 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday.
“I think the remarkable thing is finding out a way to win on the road,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “(Iowa) is a good team and they get up and down the floor and we didn’t do a very good job.”
Dawson scored a career-high 17 points, including a dunk after a steal with less than a minute remaining that put the game away for the Spartans, who got their first road win in Big Ten play and improved to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference.
“I think it was the second-best or maybe his best game,” Izzo said. “I think Russell Byrd said it best as we walked into the locker room. He said, ‘Coach, you can’t be on (Dawson) about having no motor tonight.’ He had some big blocks, some big plays and he was tired. That was enjoyable because I like seeing him panting because it means he’s pushing himself a little bit. I thought he definitely made some big-time plays and drives and passes. He’s starting to get more and more comfortable.”
Dawson credited Appling for the steal.
“It was definitely the turning point but it would have happened without Keith Appling,” Dawson said. “He had pressure on the ball and I was just playing the passing lane. Keith started the whole thing, he had pressure on the ball.”
After Dawson’s dunk, Iowa (11-5, 0-3) had several chances to tie the game but couldn’t convert from the free-throw line. Appling was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line in the final seconds to put the game away.
“What you have to be able to in those situations is execute your offense,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We worked on that the last three days and we didn’t do it. What we ended up doing was having some good players make some good plays at times and got some transition opportunities. But we didn’t execute at any point in time when we really needed a basket.”
Harris added 14 points for the Spartans, while Appling had 12 and Adreian Payne chipped in with 10.
Even though Appling had struggled all night, going 3-for-13 from the field, Izzo wanted the ball in his hands late in the game.
“It means a lot,” Appling said. “It shows he has confidence in me and trusts me with the basketball. When he does that I try as hard as I can to make something happen for myself and for the team.”
Harris’ play was just as impressive considering he re-injured the left shoulder he sprained early in the season. It had popped out again, but Harris insisted Izzo put him back in.
“He said he wanted to go in as he held his arm around his ankles,” Izzo said. “That kid has got a big heart.”
Harris responded by going 3-for-5 from 3-point range and hitting three straight free throws to tie the game at 56 with 1:04 to play.
“I can’t express how proud I was of those three guys,” Izzo said. “Dawson, Appling and, of course, Harris.”
Zach McCabe scored 15 points to lead the Hawkeyes, while Melsahn Basabe had 14.
Michigan State erased an eight-point deficit midway through the second half with a 16-4 run to take a 46-42 lead. Iowa eventually retook the lead, 51-49.
It went back and forth before three free throws from Harris tied the game at 56 with 1:04 to play, setting up the final steal from Dawson.
Iowa had about as perfect a start as it could have wanted in search of its first conference victory.
The Hawkeyes hit 10 of their first 14 shots and opened a 26-14 lead midway through the first half, taking advantage of a frigid start from the Spartans.
Michigan State shot just 37 percent from the field before the break and made just three of nine free-throw attempts, yet the Spartans somehow trailed just 28-24 at halftime.
“I thought our whole team was out of sync,” Izzo said. “I was so happy that we were only down four at halftime.”
And happy to get out of Iowa with a win.