The game Michigan State and Iowa provided us with tonight was nothing short of incredible. The game further showed that the Big 10 is absolutely awesome and unquestionably the best conference in America. These are two tremendous teams right here, both with legitimate shots at reaching the Final Four in Dallas.
Spartans beat the Hawkeyes 71-69 in overtime. Iowa City was absolutely electric. This was a game the Hawkeyes simply had to have in order to keep their hopes alive for a Big 10 Championship. Sure, there’s still plenty of time and you never know what is going to happen over the course of the next five weeks as conference play concludes. But as it stands right now, the Hawks sit three full games in back of the conference leading Michigan Wolverines and now two behind the league’s most talented team — when healthy — Michigan State.
Roy Devyn Marble was terrific tonight and clearly outplayed Gary Harris in a battle of Big 10 Player of the Year candidates. Iowa also had another major advantage. The Hawkeyes reached the line a staggering 23 more times than the Spartans. The rebounds were even and, all in all, so was the rest of the game.
One thing was different, though. Iowa was at full strength. Michigan State wasn’t.
This was the greatest and most important game and victory to date for Tom Izzo and MSU. Especially after that crushing loss on Saturday night to Michigan. No Adreian Payne. No Branden Dawson. No problem. The injury-plagued season the Spartans have endured has been well documented. Tonight wasn’t about the players they were missing, though. In fact, it wasn’t even about their stars Harris and point guard Keith Appling.
Tonight belonged to the guys who stepped up and rose their play to a whole new level. Matt Costello, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice, Gavin Schilling and, yes, Spartan fans, your favorite, Russell Byrd. Costello played the best game of his young Spartan career. The guy was everywhere grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound. Valentine finally emerged as that needed third scoring option behind Harris and Appling. Trice hit some huge threes. Even Schilling battled on the boards and showed signs that he’s starting to get it. And Byrd, what more can you say? The dude’s battled injuries his entire Michigan State career. He’s been the subject of much criticism amongst Spartan fans. And most people forget how highly touted he was as a recruit. To step up like that with a game-clinching three was an incredible thing to see. You could see the smile on his face almost as if to say, “this is finally my moment.”
Make no mistake about it, Iowa is a phenomenal team. But tonight belongs to the Spartans.
Resilient, tough and a truly gritty win against a great opponent on the road. Not having Payne and Dawson is only making these other players stronger and develop more confidence. When those two are back, look out America.
A healthy Michigan State is not only the best team in the Big 10, they’re the best team in all of college basketball.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball writer for RantSports.com. He covers the Big 10 Conference. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27.