Michigan State’s efficient offense was hardly impressive in its latest game, but coach Tom Izzo’s team proved it can win without putting up a lot of points.
Ugly offensive performances have been far too common for Iowa.
The 10th-ranked Spartans begin a softer portion of their Big Ten schedule Saturday afternoon in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes look to bounce back from their lowest-scoring total in nearly a half century.
Michigan State (12-3, 2-0) was averaging a league-best 82.4 points and in the top 10 nationally in shooting percentage (50.7) and assists (19.4 per game) heading into its conference home opener Wednesday against No. 17 Wisconsin. The Spartans, though, had to find a different way to win against the defensive-minded Badgers.
They used 16 points from Chris Allen and a 41-27 rebounding edge to offset 38.1 percent shooting in a 54-47 victory.
“I don’t know if we both played bad - or tough,” Izzo said. “That is one thing that I’ve said, that good teams have to win in different ways.”
Big Ten preseason player of the year Kalin Lucas was held to 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting, but Allen hit both of the Spartans’ 3-pointers as they improved to 8-1 when their top threat from beyond the arc connects twice.
Izzo was just as impressed with the junior’s defense, which he said has steadily improved.
“Remember I told you (Allen) couldn’t find a guy on campus?” Izzo said. “Well, he found one, and now he’s found two or three, and now he is really starting to check. I swear to you that his offense is better because his defense has gotten better.”
Michigan State made it to the NCAA championship game last season on the strength of Lucas’ clutch play and its rebounding, as it grabbed a national-best 9.3 more boards per game than its opponents.
The Spartans are fifth in the country this season, outrebounding their opponents by 10.5.
Michigan State has won three straight over Iowa (5-10, 0-3), and it’ll meet the Hawkeyes on Jan. 20 to wrap up a three-game homestand that includes Minnesota and Illinois.
The Spartans won 71-56 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last Jan. 29 behind a career high-tying 24 points from Lucas and 21 from Durrell Summers, who’s currently playing despite nursing a shoulder injury.
Two years ago in Iowa City, the teams shot a combined 29.3 percent in a 43-36 Hawkeyes’ upset of No. 6 Michigan State. Lucas went 0 for 8 in the Spartans’ most futile offensive performance since 1952.
Iowa turned in its own historically bad offensive effort Tuesday at Illinois. The Hawkeyes were held to 15 first-half points and lost 59-42, the fewest points they’ve scored since a 47-41 loss at Purdue on Jan. 21, 1961.
While Michigan State is the Big Ten’s best offensive club, Iowa is easily the worst. The Hawkeyes’ shooting percentage (42.6) and points per game (63.2) are last in the conference, and their minus-3.4 turnover differential is the worst among any team from the six BCS conferences.
Leading scorer Matt Gatens (12.6) has averaged 4.7 of Iowa’s 18.3 turnovers in conference play, and the Hawkeyes have been outscored by 19.5 in the first half of their last two games.
“We need to do a better job of initially setting the tone and making sure we compete early,” coach Todd Lickliter said.