Down two key players because of injuries, Michigan State is finding new players to step up.
As they head to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to face struggling Georgetown in a rare late-season matchup of non-conference foes, the No. 7 Spartans are hoping to get more production from unexpected places.
Escaping Big Ten play and facing a Hoyas team which has dropped five straight may serve Michigan State well, as the banged-up team has been in some close battles of late. Each of its last three games was decided by five points or less, and the Spartans (19-2) won two of them.
Star senior Adreian Payne hasn't played since Jan. 7 because of a foot injury, and starting forward Branden Dawson has missed the last two games with a broken hand. Neither player will suit up against the Hoyas, again leaving Michigan State without its top two rebounders. Payne and Dawson combine to average 26.4 points and 16.4 boards.
Sophomore Matt Costello helped atone for their absences in the latest game, setting career highs with 11 points and 12 rebounds in a 71-69 overtime victory at No. 15 Iowa on Tuesday.
Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, who came into the game averaging a combined 14.1 points, totaled 21 and five 3-pointers. Little-used Russell Byrd, who didn't score in six of the 10 games he had played this season, hit a key 3-pointer late in overtime.
"We have guys that want to win," said senior Keith Appling, who had 16 points. "I feel like this win speaks volumes of the character of our team. We have a lot of guys that are able to dig down and compete. And at the end of the day I feel like that's what gave us the victory."
Contributions from Valentine and Trice could continue to make a big difference considering that in Michigan State's only two losses, the duo accounted for a total of just 11 points.
No matter who has been on the floor for Michigan State, the team has been tough away from home with a 10-0 record. Four of those victories came on a neutral floor, including 78-74 over then-No. 1 Kentucky on Nov. 12 in Chicago.
Georgetown (11-9) had a couple of nice neutral-court wins in November, beating previously ranked teams Kansas State and VCU in Puerto Rico, but hasn't won anywhere in the past three weeks. The Hoyas are looking to avoid their first six-game losing streak since dropping nine in a row to close the 2003-04 season.
"We're in a hole right now," coach John Thompson III said. "This group is going to stay together, we're going to look under every rock and we're going to try to figure it out, because we're going to get out of this hole. I don't have all the answers now, but collectively we're going to figure out how to get out of this hole."
During this five-game skid, Georgetown's opponents are making 40.0 percent of their 3-point attempts after their first 15 hit 27.5 percent. Another big difference during the losing streak has been getting to the foul line, with the Hoyas attempting 60 fewer foul shots than their opponents.
The Hoyas were outscored 22-8 at the free-throw line in a 65-60 loss to No. 5 Villanova on Monday.
One bright spot of late for Georgetown has been Markel Starks, averaging 23.0 points over the last three contests.
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