Michigan State didn’t have it easy winning two straight games away from home, including one over a ranked opponent its last time out.
The ninth-ranked Spartans don’t face nearly as big a challenge Saturday against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, as they return to the Breslin Center looking to extend the nation’s third-longest home winning streak over non-conference opponents.
The ninth-ranked Spartans (8-1) rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to win 68-61 over then-No. 20 BYU last Saturday in Salt Lake City. It came four days after they won 66-61 at Bradley on Dec. 4, when they shot a season-low 40.7 percent and also trailed at the half.
The victory over BYU improved Michigan State to 2-1 versus ranked opponents and was its fifth straight win since losing 68-63 to then-No. 2 UCLA on Nov. 20. It also showed how resilient the Spartans can be when faced with some adversity on the court.
“We felt we were fortunate to be down only 10 at halftime,” said Spartans senior guard Drew Neitzel, who had 13 of his 15 points in the second half. “We just brought a new attitude out in the second half. That’s all it was - a different mind-set.”
Playing a game that was considered to be at a neutral site, but filled with BYU fans, Michigan State missed 15 of its first 20 shots and had five turnovers in the first 5 minutes. The Spartans shot 29 percent in the first half, but bounced back to go 16-for-24 from the field in the second half while outscoring the Cougars 43-26.
“I told them at halftime, they must have gone on strike on me,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They did nothing. But that second half, I thought we were back to playing like we did.”
The Spartans also were able to establish a presence inside as they outscored BYU 28-12 in the paint.
Forward Raymar Morgan had 15 points and six rebounds, while 6-foot-10 Goran Suton had 12 points and 13 boards for the Spartans. Suton, who averages 9.2 points and a team-leading 9.0 rebounds, had totaled just 10 points in his previous two contests.
Michigan State has shot 42.7 percent over its last two games, dropping its season average to 49.4 percent, but continued to play well defensively. The Spartans have not allowed more than 61 points in four straight games, holding those opponents to a combined 38.8 percent from the floor.
The Spartans look for another solid defensive effort Saturday at home, where they are allowing an average of 59.6 points in five games.
Michigan State will try to extend its winning streak over non-conference opponents to 32 games, dating to a 72-50 loss to Duke on Dec. 3, 2003.
Only the Blue Devils (56 straight games) and Sam Houston State (41) have longer winning streaks of that kind.
This is the third straight season the Spartans have played a home game against IPFW. Neitzel and forward Marquise Gray each had 13 points in an 80-43 win over the Mastodons last season, giving Michigan State a 3-0 lead in the all-time series.
After winning three in a row, including its two most recent games in Summit League play, IPFW (4-4) steps out of conference Saturday to face its first ranked opponent of the season.
Senior Demetrius Johnson had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for his first triple-double in IPFW’s 79-70 win over Missouri-Kansas City last Saturday.
“I got a triple-double in high school, but that was a long time ago,” said Johnson, who averages 10.9 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds. “I just tried to ‘face-up’ a little more and beat them off the dribble with quickness, and I ended up getting a lot of fouls called and made my foul shots.
Johnson, who was named the conference’s player of the week, has posted a double-double in each of his last three games while averaging 14.0 points and 10.6 assists.