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January 25, 2014

Tank runs dry, MSU loses 80-75

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Tom Izzo is rarely shy about criticizing his team - even after a victory.

But a home loss to Michigan State's biggest rival, with first place on the line? That was painful enough, and Izzo took a softer approach.

"In the 30 years I've been here, I've never been prouder of a team," he said.

The third-ranked Spartans finally ran out of answers down the stretch, losing 80-75 to 21st-ranked Michigan on Saturday night at Breslin Center.

AUDIO: Izzo Post-Game

Michigan State (18-2, 7-1) was without Adreian Payne (sprained right foot) and Branden Dawson (broken right hand).

Gary Harris scored a career-high 27 points for Michigan State and Keith Appling added 10 points and 10 assists.

Appling was 3-of-11 from the field, playing with an injured wrist. He missed a pair of driving, contested lay-ups within a :90-second span which served as the game's turning point. Izzo wanted fouls on both calls. Instead, the first miss led to a runout 3-pointer by Nik Stauskas, giving Michigan the lead for good at 63-60.

"I thought there were a couple of big calls," Izzo said, actually meaning no-calls. "One at 60-60, ends up a 3-point play at their end. I thought Appling got fouled. We didn't have enough to overcome that.

"Keith Appling - I can't tell you how much that kid sucked it up," Izzo said. "If Gary Harris isn't the best player at both ends of the court in the league, then God bless whoever is.

"Keith just can't shoot right now with that wrist," Izzo said.

Appling's ailment is the latest in a string of injuries and illnesses that have hampered the Spartans all season.

Michigan (15-4, 7-0 Big Ten) has won nine in a row, all without star big man Mitch McGary, who is out indefinitely because of a back injury.

The Wolverines went on a 10-0 run late in the game - with 6 coming at the foul line - to turn a 60-58 deficit into a 68-60 lead. It was Michigan's second win in 15 games at the Breslin Center.

Michigan went 11 of 19 from 3-point range (58 percent), and it was the outside shooting that kept the Spartans from pulling away during what was generally a strong first half for Michigan State.

The Spartans led 36-30 at halftime before giving up 50 points in the second.

"You're not going to beat too many teams when they shoot that way," Harris said. "They did a good job. And we've got to shoot better at the line."

Michigan went 23 of 27 on free throws in the second half, and 25 of 30 for the game. Michigan State was 16 of 23 on the night.

Michigan State freshman Alvin Ellis III scored a season-high 12 points, and his 3-pointer gave the Spartans a 57-55 lead with 6:19 to go.

Harris kept shooting until the end, but the Wolverines wouldn't let up.

"Well he was gassed - gassed and hurt," Izzo said of Harris in the final mintues. "bBt he took a fall before that four-minute mark so I'm hoping that he'll be alright, but he was gassed and they did do a better job. They tried to deny him some just like he was denying [Nik] Stauskas. Both teams played awfully hard and the better team won. They made the plays down the stretch to win."

Appling finished 3 of 11 while trying to play through wrist and back problems.

"I can't even shoot. I couldn't participate in any shooting drills in shoot-around," Appling said. "But when I step on the basketball court, that's not something I can use when we don't come up with a victory. To me, that's a cop-out."

The Spartans only turned the ball over five times, equaling their fewest since at least the 1996-97 season.

MSU received strong play from reserves, such as Ellis and Gavin Schilling.

"This gives us a little bit of confidence," said Michigan State's Matt Costello, who had nine points and nine rebounds. "We were down two of our best players and played pretty well against them. We just have to regroup and tear up the rest of the Big Ten."

Easier said than done. Not only does Michigan State have to play at Michigan, but the Spartans also have road games at Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State still to come.

"I had some guys that I questioned whether I'd want to go to war with some of them," Izzo said. "I'd go to war with more of them today."

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