EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)—Michigan State’s freshmen are growing up and helping the Spartans stay in first place in the Big Ten.
Freshman Delvon Roe scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and classmate Korie Lucious added 12 points to lead No. 9 Michigan State to a 62-54 victory over Iowa on Wednesday night. Both players had career highs as freshmen accounted for 32 of Michigan State’s 62 points.
Michigan State dominated the boards, outrebounding Iowa 33-19.
The win gives the Spartans (22-5, 12-3) a 1 1/2 -game lead in the Big Ten over No. 16 Purdue and a two-game lead over No. 20 Illinois.
“Our freshmen kind of hung us in there tonight,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
What would have happened without them?
“We would have lost, to be honest with you,” Izzo said. “And we could have anyway. We didn’t play very good. … You would have to classify us as kind of dysfunctional right now offensively. It’s just been a struggle.”
Jake Kelly—one of three Hawkeyes to play all 40 minutes—had 20 points for Iowa (14-14, 4-11), while Aaron Fuller added 10.
Iowa trailed by 12 points in the first half and got as close as 48-43 with 8:27 remaining in the game.
“You’re never satisfied with a loss but you have to take some positives from this,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “I thought our guys fought as best as they could all night. Hopefully this helps us become a better team.”
Lickliter said Michigan State is a “terrific” and “balanced” team. It showed with freshmen filling in on a night leading scorer Kalin Lucas was held to four points.
Roe was strong inside.
“They’re running some plays for me,” said Roe, showing more signs of recovering from surgery on both knees. “I’m feeling more comfortable and confident.”
Michigan State, the nation’s No. 2 rebounding team behind only top-ranked Pittsburgh, pulls down an average of 10 more rebounds per game than its opponents, meaning more possessions and shot opportunities.
That’s especially critical in the grind-it-out, low-scoring games often typical of the Big Ten.
Both teams shot around 45 percent from the field Wednesday, but the Spartans took seven more shots.
Iowa tried to slow the tempo and rely on 3-point shooting early. That strategy backfired when Lucious made three consecutive 3s to cap a 14-2 run and give the Spartans a 22-11 lead with 9:43 left in the first half.
Michigan State led 32-22 at halftime thanks in part to a 20-11 rebounding edge and tough defense.
“Michigan State’s defense makes you hurry,” Kelly said. “They’re long and athletic.”
Iowa crept within 38-32 with 13:33 left in the second half on a 3-pointer by Kelly, but Lucious hit a 3 to make it 41-32.
Iowa has been bothered by injuries to key players, making lack of depth a major problem.
Forward Cyrus Tate missed several games with an ankle injury and is working his way back into playing shape. He played 17 minutes and had seven points against Michigan State, after playing 4 minutes in Sunday’s win over Michigan.
Point guard Jeff Peterson has missed the last three games with a strained hamstring and injured wrist. Guard Anthony Tucker has been ruled academically ineligible for the second semester and will sit out the remainder of the season. He averaged 10.4 points in the 14 games he played this season.
Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan has had limited playing time because of an illness resembling walking pneumonia. He managed to play 18 minutes against Iowa, scoring four points.
The Spartans conclude the regular season with road trips to Illinois and Indiana, then host Purdue on March 8.