WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Michigan State's hopes of winning a third straight Big Ten title took a serious blow on Saturday when the Spartans lost their third conference game of the year, 86-76 at Purdue, while league-leading Ohio State stayed unbeaten with a victory at Illinois.
Three games behind the conference-leading Buckeyes, and OSU not scheduled to visit East Lansing this year, the Spartans are likely reduced to shaping things toward the goal of a hot streak in the second half of the season, and peaking in March, something for which head coach Tom Izzo is known.
Izzo hoped he'd be drawing more comparisons to some of his conference championship years rather than his program's formative years at this point in the season, but he's dealing with it, working with it.
"I don't want to feel like we are making progress like we're back in '96, but we did make some progress (against Purdue)," Izzo said. "Inside, Delvon Roe might have had his best game. It was a tough game, and give Delvon Roe credit on defense. The job he did on Jujuan Johnson, who scored 4 or 6 points real late, I thought he guarded him as well as anybody."
Roe finished with 16 points on 6-or-9 shooting, showing increasing explosiveness to the rim, as well as a pair of nice, efficient, post-up field goals.
Johnson, the Big Ten's leading scorer, finished with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with six free throws. Despite those nice numbers, MSU's defense on Johnson was generally good enough to force Purdue to go elsewhere for offensive output.
Purdue found it with 26 points from NBA-quality guard E'Twaun Moore and 19 difference-making points from point guard Lewis Jackson.
"I'll be honest with you, after challenging Durrell Summers - because his defense was miserable in the first half - he might have played the best defensive second half of his entire career," Izzo said. "So that's a positive. And I don't think Kalin Lucas will go 3-for-16 many times."
But Lucas did on this night. Lucas being outscored 19-to-9 by Jackson was a deficit that contributed largely to the Spartans having to play catch-up after the 15-minute mark of the first half.
"I thought we really did a great job for probably 35 or 36 minutes of that game," Izzo said. "There was probably a four- or five-minute stretch in that first half where we let Jackson get out of control a little bit and he hurt us, and Moore hurt us some. And in the second half on two scramble plays where we had the rebounds, but they kicked it out and Ryne Smith had two big threes, other than that, it was a pretty see-saw battle.
"As good as Moore was, I think Jackson was the difference," Izzo said. "He made a couple of those lay-ups, underneath, swooping. And we missed some of those. But I know one thing: We played as hard as we've played in a while. We executed some things against a tough defense. We out-rebounded them, with 14 offensive boards and only two turnovers in the second half. We are just going to keep building."
While Lucas was struggling with his shot, the 5-foot-8 Jackson was blowing past defenders and slicing his way to the basket almost at will. He knew the matchup with Lucas would be a key.
"He's a great player," Jackson said. "I always look forward to playing him. That's kind of like a gauge for me. You always want to win that battle. I know he's a leader on their team and once you take out a leader or the head of the monster, so they say, it kind of makes people get into a panic."
No. 13-ranked Purdue (17-3, 6-1 Big Ten) remained a game behind No. 1 Ohio State in the conference standings heading into their showdown in Columbus on Tuesday night.
Draymond Green had 21 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for the Spartans (12-7, 4-3).
"I thought this was going to be the most physical game we have played since Texas, and it was, it was a war out there," Izzo said. "We had some chances. I thought we got beat up in there pretty good. We made some shots. If Kalin just shoots anything normal, then we shoot 50 percent from the field.
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"We get 63 shots; that's phenomenal. We did some good things, we just didn't get to the line enough, and they did. And we had two what I call three-minute spurts that were the difference in the game."
"There is a lot of basketball left. We just played two of the toughest teams in two of the toughest venues and we are going to grow from it, some how, some way."
Moore had been working his way out of a slump, and Izzo said Summers' poor defense helped.
"We'll, we didn't guard him in the first half," Izzo said. "Give E'Twaun credit, he made some shots, but there was a ghost guarding him. Somebody running around with a number on his back that didn't guard him."
Purdue shot 58 percent from the field to win its 12th straight home game. Michigan State's opponents had shot 40 percent from the field this season.
Michigan State jumped out to a 20-16 lead before Purdue rallied. A 3-point play by Johnson and a teardrop layup by Jackson over two defenders gave Purdue a 24-22 lead.
Three straight layups by Jackson and a basket by Moore gave the Boilermakers a 34-26 lead, prompting Izzo to call a timeout.
Purdue extended its lead to 13 at 41-28 on back-to-back baskets by Moore and led 41-31 at halftime. Moore scored 19 points in the first half, and the Boilermakers shot 62 percent before the break.
Michigan State scored eight points off offensive rebounds in the first half, preventing the score from being more lopsided.
A pair of 3-pointers by Ryne Smith gave Purdue a 50-36 lead in the opening minutes of the second half.
Green made a 3-pointer to cut Purdue's lead to 61-55, and the crowd started getting nervous. But a steal by Moore led to a layup by Jackson, then Kelsey Barlow threw down a dunk to push the Boilermakers' lead back to 10.
Purdue remained comfortably ahead the rest of the way, leaving Izzo searching for positives.
"We're not a program who should be growing, but I hate to say we are," he said. "We're playing better. Not good enough to beat a real good team. And Purdue's a real good team."
The win gave the Boilermakers a confidence boost.
"This is always going to be a great memory for us to have," Jackson said, "but making a statement and showing people that we can play with the best teams in the nation and we have other key pieces that can step up ... I think that kind of sends that message to the rest of the nation that we are contenders. Even though we lost Rob [Hummel], we still have a great shot for a national championship and the Big Ten race."