Michigan State knows what it needs to do to clinch a share of the Big Ten title.
Containing Penn State’s Talor Battle is something it still hasn’t figured out how to do.
Needing wins in their final two games to become conference co-champions, the 11th-ranked Spartans face Battle and the Nittany Lions on Thursday trying to avoid dropping three straight at home for the first time in 13 years.
Despite losing three in a row to start February, Michigan State (22-7, 12-4) enters March with a chance to win a share of the Big Ten crown. Ohio State closed its regular season with a win over Illinois on Tuesday for a 14-4 record in conference play. The Spartans finish at home against Michigan on Sunday.
“I almost look at this as one and done time from here on out,” coach Tom Izzo said. “To win the Big Ten you can’t lose a game, to win the (Big Ten) tournament you can’t lose a game, to win the (NCAA) tournament you can’t lose a game.”
While Izzo’s team has the advantage of playing its final two contests at the Breslin Center, it’s dropped two straight there, although both opponents were ranked in the Top 10 at the time. The Spartans haven’t lost three consecutive home games since Jan. 22-Feb. 8, 1997.
Before falling to Purdue at the Breslin Center on Feb. 9, Michigan State had not lost at home since a 72-68 defeat to Penn State on Feb. 1, 2009. In that game, the Spartans struggled to contain Battle, who scored 29 points to lead the Nittany Lions to their first win in 17 tries in East Lansing.
Battle, the conference’s second-leading scorer at 19.0 per game, had another big day against Michigan State on Feb. 13, scoring 30 points, but Penn State lost 65-54. He’s averaged 20.4 points in five career meetings.
Michigan State is coming off a 53-44 win at then-No. 3 Purdue on Sunday. The Spartans committed a season-high 23 turnovers, but they had a 46-20 rebounding advantage and held the Boilermakers to 30.0 percent shooting.
Leading scorer Kalin Lucas was held to eight points - the second straight contest he failed to reach double digits - but Raymar Morgan had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“Some of our other guys have to play better, there’s no question about it,” Izzo said. “But as I tried to tell this team last night, we’re still capable of doing the things we want to do because we’ve done them before.”
Lucas has played well against Penn State, averaging 17.8 points in five games. He scored 24 in last month’s win.
The Nittany Lions (11-17, 3-13) are looking to sustain the momentum from their latest win. They shot 57.1 percent in a 79-60 win over Northwestern on Sunday as Battle scored 16 points and Chris Babb added 14.
“I tried to convince the kids the last couple of days that this was a very important game for us to try to springboard ourselves into Michigan State on Thursday,” coach Ed DeChellis said.
Penn State has won three of four after losing 12 straight Dec. 29-Feb. 13. The Nittany Lions have averaged 70.5 points the last four games after scoring 59.4 per game during the losing streak.