Playing the underdog role isn’t exactly something the Michigan State Spartans are used to, but on Tuesday night against the Iowa Hawkeyes on the road, they were just that. Not many saw them taking down a tough No. 15 Iowa squad, but Tom Izzo‘s Spartans knew what they had in them — heart.
As cliche as it is, it’s 100 percent true.
Izzo saw his Spartans scratch and claw their way through a grueling matchup in which they finished with 29 personal fouls which led to 43 Iowa free throw attempts — something college basketball needs to correct — and they still won.
It’s not often you see a team win when they allow 43 free throw attempts — more than doubling the Spartans’ total — however, Michigan State has become a much different team without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.
No, it’s not a bad thing that MSU is a different team without two starters who combine for 26 points and 16 rebounds, but it’s something that is going to help the team in the long run. Without two of its biggest stars, Michigan State has relied heavily on Keith Appling‘s leadership, Matt Costello‘s progression and the team’s toughness.
Appling is the leader of the team and he proved it by leading the team in scoring even though he has a sore wrist that could have kept him out of the game. Costello is the lone big man that the Spartans have counted on without two of the best big guys on the team — and he has excelled. Without Dawson and Payne, Costello is averaging a double-double and he’s a guy who averages close to two blocks per game as well.
The team’s toughness is at an all-time high. It was evident by Russel Byrd‘s clutch three-point shot that sealed the game for the Spartans.
If Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice continue to take pressure off the ailing Appling, the Spartans will be the team to beat in March when Payne and Dawson are full strength.
This team is scary, folks.
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.