WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -Branden Dawson scored 20 points and Keith Appling added 17, leading No. 8 Michigan State past Purdue 78-65 on Saturday night.
"It was just a real good game for us really," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, "to come down here with our backs against the wall and all of the top teams that have lost this week. It shows a little character on our guys' part."
The Spartans (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten) have won three straight, nine of their last 10, four of their last five on the road in conference play and will retain at least a share of the league lead -- regardless of what happens Sunday when No. 1 Indiana visits No. 10 Ohio State.
Purdue (12-12, 5-6) was led by Terone Johnson with 20 points and Ronnie Johnson with 15, but couldn't avoid losing for the fourth time in five games or for the fifth straight time in the series.
Coming into the game, there were questions about how healthy Michigan State would be after Wednesday night's physical struggle against No. 18 Minnesota.
Appling left that game when his right shoulder popped out and then back in, Adreian Payne missed part of the second half with a bloody nose, Gary Harris (back) and Dawson (sprained right ankle) played through the pain, and Travis Trice sat out with a head injury. Trice was the only one who sat out at Purdue.
"Any road win is tough to get, but this one I think was a little bit bigger," Izzo said. "I think this Purdue team is good and it is a tough place to play. We came off of a tough game (against Minnesota) and we've got these three games in six days. We are a little bit beat up and we had some strange lineups in there. But give our kids a lot of credit because we had a lot of guys that played a little bit of basketball that really helped us."
There were even more concerns when Payne, Harris and Appling all wound up on the bench after each was called for a third foul a little more than five minutes into the second half Saturday.
But neither the injuries nor the foul trouble slowed down Izzo's team.
Denzel Valentine played a critical role for the Spartans off the bench. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound freshman scored just two points against the Boilermakers, but the former Lansing Sexton standout filled the role of point guard for Michigan State after Appling picked up his second personal foul.
Michigan State led 23-16 when Appling left the game with 6:35 remaining in the first half. Valentine's play a point guard helped the Spartans maintain that lead the rest of the first half.
"Keith was in foul trouble and Denzel came in and did a heckuva job considering all of the things that he had to go through," said Izzo.
After taking a 31-23 halftime lead, Michigan State opened the second half on a 12-5 run to extend the lead to 43-28 with 15:46 to play.
Purdue fought back, trimming the lead to 51-40 when Sandi Marcius posted up for a layup with 10:55 to go.
Then, with Harris and Payne on the bench again after drawing their fourth fouls, Appling scored seven points in a 9-2 spurt that gave Michigan State a comfortable 62-45 lead with 7:19 remaining.
Purdue couldn't get closer than 12 the rest of the way.
It was that kind of night for the Boilermakers. Senior D.J. Byrd missed his only shot of the game before fouling out late, the Boilermakers were 22 of 34 from the free throw line and star center A.J. Hammons was just 3 of 8 from the field.
Hammons was outplayed by senior Derrick Nix, who scored 17 points on 5 of 6 shooting and added four rebounds in 32 minutes. Nix was 5 of 7 at the free-throw line. The Spartan senior added three steals and a pair of assists.
The tandem of Nix and Adreian Payne were a combined 11 of 21 for 29 points and 10 rebounds.
"We thought that's the one mismatch that we had," Izzo said. "I thought that we went to them pretty good. At times we went away from them. But we did a pretty good job of getting it in to them. We wanted to establish the post."
Izzo was also pleased with the minutes he received from reserve post players Alex Gauna and Matt Costello, as well as reserve guard Russell Byrd.
"We were in that foul trouble and we had some guys that went in there and played and did a pretty good job," said Izzo. "Both (Matt) Costello and (Alex) Gauna did some things right. Russell Byrd did a pretty good job. He missed a couple of wide-open shots that I think he is going to start getting. We just have to get him a little more confidence."
Michigan State scored 42 points in the paint against the Boilermakers.
"They put pressure on our guards which left the inside open," Izzo said. "We knew they were going to do that. They double a little bit in the second half and we handled it pretty well."
Michigan State was 20 of 24 at the free-thow line. Nix and Dawson were a combined 11 of 13 at the line.
"Twenty of 24 is a big stat and maybe the biggest stat is Nix and Dawson going 11 of 13," Izzo said. "With Branden going 6 of 6, give him credit. Mike Garland and he have worked tirelessly. Dwayne Stephens has done a really good job with Nix and Payne in there and Costello and Gauna, they did some good things too."
The game began with a cascade of boos for Dawson and Harris, both Indiana natives, but they responded by making the first two baskets in a game the Spartans trailed only once -- at 8-7.
"I was really proud of Branden and I was really proud of Gary," said Izzo. "He got hurt a little bit again but he started out with a basket and he played good defense again."
Twice in the first half, it looked as if Michigan State would blow out the Boilermakers.
The first time came when Michigan State used a 7-0 run to take an 18-10 lead, forcing Purdue to call a timeout with 11:43 left in the first half. A few minutes later, the Spartans scored six straight points to make it 31-18 with 3:02 to go.
But Purdue charged back, scoring five straight points before missing an opportunity to pull within six when Terone Johnson turned over the ball on the final possession of the first half.
Michigan State outrebounded Purdue 31-27. The Spartans also kept their turnovers in single digits for the second time this week.
"We finally got back to rebounding," said Izzo, "outrebounding the best rebounding team in the league, 20 of 24 from the free-throw line, nine turnovers, those things are all monster things as we move on."