Rarely has Michigan State been able to put together a complete performance this season. The shooting is on, the turnovers pop up. The defense is strong, the rebounding suffers. The bigs play well, the guards don't, and vice versa.
"It's time for us to have one of those games where we have everything going," sophomore forward Draymond Green said. "One of those games where everyone's just like, 'Wow.'"
In the meantime, the Spartans are executing and defending late in games and finding ways to win. That's what they did to pull out a 60-53 victory over Tubby Smith's pesky Minnesota team Wednesday at Breslin Center.
A consistent problem, turnovers, was not an issue at all against the pressing Gophers. The Spartans had just 10. But they also had their worst shooting night of the season (36.2 percent) and were battled to a surprising draw on the boards.
Timely baskets, defensive stops and free throws kept Michigan State atop the Big Ten standings.
"I think our guys are learning that it doesn't matter what we do in a game as long as we find ways to win in a game," coach Tom Izzo said after his 350th career victory. "That's a big step, and I feel good about it."
MICHIGAN STATE 60, MINNESOTA 53: Junior guard Kalin Lucas scored 14 points, 11 in the second half, and junior guard Durrell Summers scored 13 off the bench, helping the Spartans to a 27-3 edge in bench points.
The key plays were made by junior guard Chris Allen and sophomore forward Draymond Green. Allen, who was just 2-for-9 from the field, hit a key 3-pointer and a driving jumper in the final four minutes.
Green had back-to-back defensive stops, getting a steal and a block. He had four steals and three blocks on the night.
--Tom Izzo is now 10-2 all-time against Tubby Smith, with both losses coming when Smith was at Kentucky. The Spartans have won seven straight against the Gophers, their longest winning streak in the history of the series.
--The Spartans' 71-53 win at Iowa gave them a 2-0 record in Big Ten road games this season, after they set a school record by going 8-1 last season. Michigan State has won 10 of 11 road games just once before, winning the last seven of the 1998-99 season and three of the first four in 1999-2000 en route to the national championship.
--Speaking of 1999-2000, that was one of two previous seasons in which Tom Izzo started 3-0 in the Big Ten. He also did it last season, before winning the league and advancing to the Final Four. This was Michigan State's third 3-0 Big Ten start under Izzo, but he said he "wouldn't be betting my wife and my life" that there's any significance to the start.
ON THE SPOT: Turnovers continue to be a problem. The Spartans had 18 of them against Iowa, an un-athletic team that did not pressure the ball. Michigan State is simply coughing it up on careless passes and traveling violations, and Tom Izzo said he will spend extra time on the problem this week. The Spartans host Minnesota on Wednesday, and Tubby Smith's team loves to pressure and force mistakes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That was a tough game, tough game to play in. I told Bo (Ryan), I don't know if we both played bad, both played good or both played tough. ... You always question your team's toughness until you see them against a tough team, and that was a tough team we played." -- Tom Izzo after a Jan. 6 victory over Wisconsin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Spartans opened Big Ten play with victories over ranked teams -- Northwestern on the road and Wisconsin at home. Michigan State's three losses came against good nonleague competition -- at North Carolina and Texas, and vs. Florida in Atlantic City. Michigan State has held 12 of 16 teams under 40 percent shooting, but UNC and Texas were both over 56 percent.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Kalin Lucas, G Chris Allen, F Raymar Morgan, F Delvon Roe, C Derrick Nix. Key Subs -- F Draymond Green, G Durrell Summers, G Korie Lucious, C Garrick Sherman, G Austin Thornton.
MSU 91, Northwestern 70
MSU 54, Wisconsin 47
MSU 71, Iowa 53
MSU 60, Minnesota 53
vs. Illinois, Saturday, Jan. 16
vs. Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 20
at Minnesota, Saturday, Jan. 23
at Michigan, Tuesday, Jan. 26
IN FOCUS: The Spartans lead the Big Ten in rebounding, but that will be a point of emphasis after Michigan State allowed Minnesota to grab 13 offensive rebounds. The Golden Gophers battled to a draw on the boards at 37-37, a rarity for an opponent in Breslin Center.
--Things got a bit nasty in the first half Wednesday when Minnesota's Colton Iverson dropped MSU freshman C Derrick Nix with an elbow. Nix was on the ground for a few minutes before walking off -- and eventually returning -- and Tom Izzo was visibly upset with Iverson, held back by assistant coaches after Nix was dropped. Nix later said the play was a "cheap shot," although officials did not eject Iverson. Gophers coach Tubby Smith said it was an inadvertent elbow.
--It's back up for Durrell Summers, whose roller coaster continues. He was in double figures in six of MSU's first seven games, then fell short in four straight. Then he scored 48 over three games. Then he had a total of three points in the two games prior to Wednesday, when he had 13.
--Sophomore G Korie Lucious leads MSU with 68 assists, but sloppiness still plagues him at times. Lucious had three of the Spartans' 10 turnovers against Minnesota, including a pair of ill-advised passes. After starting the season with 23 assists against three giveaways, Lucious has 45 assists and 24 turnovers.
--Junior C Tom Herzog has been out of the rotation, but a good week of practice earned him an early look in the Iowa game. Herzog had two rebounds but also turned it over twice in four minutes, and he didn't see the floor in the second half. He played two minutes against Minnesota.