Lehigh-Michigan St. Preview

The Associated Press

Michigan State's Big Ten opener is shaping up as a showdown between the league's hottest team and its only undefeated one.

Before that, the 19th-ranked Spartans will try to continue a stretch of dominant basketball Thursday night in their first meeting with Lehigh.

Since losing its first two games of the season to elite programs North Carolina and Duke, Michigan State (10-2) has been nearly perfect. The Spartans have won 10 straight by an average of 23.6 points for their longest run since winning 11 in a row Dec. 7, 2008-Jan. 17, 2009.

Most of the wins during the current streak have come against inferior competition, with the exceptions being victories over previously ranked Florida State and Gonzaga. The 74-67 road win over the then-No. 23 Bulldogs on Dec. 10 was the Spartans' only one not decided by at least 14 points.

Michigan State had little trouble with UMKC on Monday, shooting 61.4 percent from the field in an 89-54 rout. Freshman Branden Dawson scored a career-high 16 points, and Brandon Wood also had 16 while going 4 for 4 from 3-point range.

"The best thing for me was the unselfishness of this team," said coach Tom Izzo, whose team had 25 assists. "We had a lot of inside-out passes. There are no black holes on this team."

Dawson has elevated his play of late, averaging 14.5 points on 13-of-18 shooting in his last two games after scoring 7.2 per game in his first 10.

"I've had a smile on my face the last two games," Dawson said. "I'm just playing my game and having fun. My teammates and coach told me to bring a lot of energy to this team. They've just been telling me to bring passion and energy on the defensive end."

The Spartans, who get a five-day Christmas break following this contest, have won 62 consecutive home games against unranked, non-conference opponents since falling to Toledo on Dec. 30, 2002.

Unless No. 17 Indiana slips up against Maryland-Baltimore County on Thursday, Izzo's club will get the chance to hand the Hoosiers their first loss when the teams meet Dec. 28 in East Lansing.

Michigan State is among the Big Ten's top five teams in scoring and scoring defense, and leads the league in rebounding, but free-throw shooting remains a concern. The Spartans missed 11 of 22 from the line against UMKC and rank 10th in the conference at 66.2 percent.

While the Spartans will be heavily favored to extend their win streak, Lehigh (9-3) enters this matchup with momentum. The Mountain Hawks also opened 0-2 but have since won nine of 10, the first time they have won nine in a 10-game span since the 2005-06 season.

Lehigh cruised to a 95-55 victory over Division III Arcadia on Monday. Freshman Stefan Cvrkalj scored 19 points and Jordan Hamilton added 16 as the Mountain Hawks posted their highest point total in more than five years.

Junior guard C.J. McCollum leads Lehigh with 18.8 points per game, Gabe Knutson adds 13.6 while Holden Greiner contributes 12.6 and a team-best 6.4 rebounds.

Michigan State will be the first ranked opponent for the Mountain Hawks since a 90-74 loss to Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Lehigh is 0-7 against Top 25 teams since the start of the 1996-97 season, losing by an average of 31.5 points.

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