It could have been a hangover after losing to in-state rival Michigan on Wednesday, it could have been the affects of playing without big man Paul Davis, but Michigan State was lucky two players showed up in their victory against the Nittany Lions.
Penn State showed that they are a lot better than what most critics think. The Nittany Lions were able to slow down the Spartans with their zone defense and almost came into East Lansing and stole a victory away from Michigan State. Geary Claxton had 19 points and 13 rebounds in the contest to lead the Nittany Lions.
"When you take Paul out of there, its tough to play against a zone," coach Izzo said. "He's our best low post presence and also our best passer from the high post."
The 69-60 final score is a little misleading to how close the Spartans came to losing to Penn State. At halftime the Nittany Lions led by a score of 32-27. Despite a red-hot Shannon Brown in the second half, Penn State didn't give in so easy.
After Brown hit two three-pointers and threw down two huge dunks the Nittany Lions still led 58-57. Two Maurice Ager free throws triggered a 12-2 run to help the Spartans pull away from Penn State for good.
Brown scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half and almost blew the roof off of the Breslin Center with a breakaway dunk.
"My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in the right position," Brown said. "That dunk I had was an energizing thing. When the crowd went crazy, my teammates went crazy."
Drew Neitzel had a career-high 19 points for the Spartans. Neitzel also had a big second half, where he scored 16 points. The sophomore point guard heated up behind the arc, shooting 5-8 from long range. In addition to the clutch perimeter shooting by Neitzel, he also dished out 7 assists in the contest. Neitzel and Brown accounted for all of the Spartans' 14 field goals in the second half. Coach Izzo knew that someone had to step up for his team while Paul Davis sat out on the bench and his leading scorer Maurice Ager was just 3-19 from the field.
"It was just one of those days when it didn't fall for Mo (Ager)," Izzo said. "All of the shots he took were good shots, he didn't force anything. I'm not sure we'll ever shoot that poorly with that many good shots."
Michigan State won't play its next game until next Saturday when they will travel to Northwestern. The week of practice should give Davis time to recover and Maurice Ager will have a great opportunity to get back on track against Northwestern. Ager has been notorious for his performances against the Wildcats over the course of his four years at Michigan State.