Spartans Marching Toward Title
Feb. 17, 2009
(AP) - Historically, a high-scoring offense and home-court dominance have been Michigan State's formula for success. Lately, defense and their play away form East Lansing have proved to be the winning recipe for the Spartans.
Sixth-ranked Michigan State looks for another strong defensive effort as it tries to match a school record with its seventh Big Ten road victory Tuesday night against No. 19 Purdue in a matchup involving two of the league's top teams.
Michigan State (20-4, 10-2) hasn't played since last Tuesday's 54-42 win at Michigan, its third straight victory.
The first-place Spartans, who haven't won a conference championship since 2001, lead No. 18 Illinois by 1 1/2 games and have a two-game lead over Purdue (19-6, 8-4) with six games left in the regular season.
"Believe me, we have a lot of games left and some tough ones, but this was a big step," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said after beating the Wolverines.
With the win over its instate rival, Michigan State improved to 7-0 in true road games, joining top-ranked Connecticut as the only undefeated Division I teams on opponents' home courts.
The Spartans' road success has been quite surprising for a team that went 5-14 on the road over the past two seasons.
Michigan State has opened Big Ten play with six consecutive road wins for the first time in school history and needs one more road victory to match the school record set in 1978 - Magic Johnson's freshman season - and 1999, when it won its second of four straight conference titles.
"It speaks to the toughness of our guys," Izzo said.
The Spartans haven't had much success at Purdue lately, though. Michigan State has lost its last two games in West Lafayette, Ind., and four of five there. Purdue is 12-2 at Mackey Arena, losing to the Illini and then-No. 4 Duke.
Michigan State is 10th in the conference in scoring defense (63.5), but it's suddenly stepped up its play on the defensive end.
The Spartans have held each of their last three opponents to fewer than 50 points for the first time since they held their first six opponents of the 1951-52 season below that mark. Michigan State limited the Wolverines to an opponent season-low 16.7 percent (4-of-24) from 3-point range, and is allowing an average of 31.4 percent shooting from the field in its last three games.
Purdue has also been winning with its defense, as it's held each of its last two opponents to less than 50 points.
In Saturday's 49-45 win at Iowa, the Boilermakers shot just 10-of-25 from the floor in the second half but limited the Hawkeyes to just one field goal in the final 4:38.
"You have to hang your hat on defense because you're going to have nights like this where the ball doesn't go in," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "If you can consistently get stops late in the game you're going to give yourself a chance and we did that."
The Boilermakers, who are second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (57.8), are 19-0 when allowing 64 or fewer points but have lost all six games when allowing at least 65. The Spartans are averaging a league-best 74.6 points.
Michigan State hopes to come back from its week-long break closer to full strength, as Raymar Morgan, the Spartans' second-leading scorer (12.3), is expected to play after missing the last three games while recovering from a batch of illnesses.
Purdue's Robbie Hummel returned to the lineup against the Hawkeyes after missing the previous three games with a hairline fracture in his lower back. In 24 minutes, he was just 1-of-7 from the field for two points - more than 10 below his season average.
Hummel had 24 points and 11 rebounds in Purdue's 60-54 home win over Michigan State on Feb. 12, 2008 - the last meeting between these two teams.
The Spartans and Boilermakers conclude the regular season on March 7 in East Lansing.