Nit­tany Lions have Spar­tans’ full at­ten­tion

The Detroit News - - SPORTS - BY MATT CHARBONEAU The Detroit News

East Lans­ing — If the past week or so has taught Michi­gan State any­thing, it’s that there are no easy nights in the Big Ten.

While the No. 6 Spar­tans have done well avoid­ing up­sets — or come close, re­ally — that hasn’t been the case around the con­fer­ence.

This week, alone, Ohio State went on the road and lost to Rut­gers while Min­nesota, after get­ting a huge road vic­tory last week over Wis­con­sin, lost at home to Mary­land, miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity to stay within a game of con­fer­ence lead­ers Michi­gan and Michi­gan State.

And while the Wolver­ines re­main un­beaten, they’ve been get­ting ev­ery­one’s best shot, mak­ing each vic­tory wel­learned.

It’s all on the Spar­tans’ minds as they pre­pare to head to Penn State to take on the Nit­tany Lions at 4:30 p.m. on Sun­day.

“It’s the Big Ten and any team can lose on any given night,” Michi­gan State guard Cas­sius Win­ston said. “You gotta keep that in your mind as you move for­ward.”

Penn State (7-9, 0-5 Big Ten) of­fers an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge. Last sea­son’s NIT cham­pion en­tered the year with hopes of a top-half fin­ish in the Big Ten and TV/ra­dio: Records:

Out­look: Michi­gan State has lost just once in the last 10 meetings.… Penn State ju­nior Lamar Stevens is av­er­ag­ing 18.6 points a game, fourthbest in the Big Ten.

a spot in the NCAA Tour­na­ment. An early sea­son win over Vir­ginia Tech seemed to in­di­cate the Nit­tany Lions were on that path.

How­ever, they’ve won just three games since and are still look­ing for their first con­fer­ence win de­spite playing Ne­braska and Michi­gan close in their last two road games. It has been enough to grab Michi­gan State’s at­ten­tion.

“What Penn State brings is an op­por­tu­nity to see if we can go against a team that doesn’t have as good of a record and yet is well­coached,” Michi­gan State coach Tom Izzo said. “(Against) In­di­ana is a two-point game, Michi­gan is an eight-point game late. They played some teams well. They beat Vir­ginia Tech, which is now a top-10 team.

“I’m not con­fused by the way bas­ket­ball is but there’s been up­sets all over and big­ger up­sets than Penn State beat­ing Michi­gan State. So, I’m try­ing to take a busi­ness-like ap­proach and see if we can get our team to play at level con­sis­tent with playing well no mat­ter who we play.”

Michi­gan State (14-2, 5-0) will have to do so with­out guard Joshua Lang­ford for the fourth straight game as the ju­nior con­tin­ues to sit out be­cause of an an­kle in­jury. His re­turn re­mains un­cer­tain but Izzo ex­pects a clearer picture by next week.

“He got a lit­tle treat­ment, they said it will be a week or so and then they’ll take the boot off and we’ll have a bet­ter up­date I’d say by next Mon­day, Tuesday,” Izzo said.

They haven’tskipped a beat in Lang­ford’s ab­sence but that doesn’t mean the Spar­tans don’t miss him. The points-per-game has gone up and the Spar­tans’ de­fense has been bet­ter.

How­ever, Izzo is con­fi­dent Lang­ford’s quick re­turn is vi­tal.

“It looks like on pa­per it’s true, but it’s not to­tally true be­cause we’d be a much bet­ter team right now with Josh and I hope we get him back soon,” Izzo said. “Josh is a big loss of­fen­sively, he runs the lane so well, I don’t think we’re run­ning very well but he de­fends so well, and he’s a threat to take those 3-point shots, which ex­pands your of­fense a lit­tle bit, spa­ces it out.”

Lang­ford’s ab­sence is ex­pected, but he might not be the only player the Spar­tans are with­out.

Ju­nior Kyle Ahrens started the last three games in Lang­ford’s ab­sence, but he’s been bat­tling a bad back that Izzo be­lieves Ahrens hurt on a dunk in last week’s win at Ohio State and ag­gra­vated after

a fall in the Pur­due game.

“That’s some­thing I’ll keep an eye on be­cause that would be two peo­ple at a sim­i­lar po­si­tion,” Izzo said.

While Ahrens hasn’t been ruled out, it likely means more min­utes for fresh­men Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown. Henry has been a reg­u­lar part of the ro­ta­tion, but Brown’s min­utes have been spo­radic. He played just less than four min­utes against Pur­due but hit his only 3-pointer in the first half.

“He does a good job know­ing his spots, know­ing his role and em­brac­ing his op­por­tu­nity,” Win­ston said of Brown. “He’s a kid that is happy to be here, happy to come to work ev­ery day.”

Brown un­der­stands his playing time will de­pend on the health of his team­mates, but he’s look­ing for­ward to what­ever chance he gets.

“I’m sorry for the guys right now, I’d rather my­self get hurt and them keep playing, but it’s an op­por­tu­nity for the team to get bet­ter, not just me,” Brown said. “I feel like I’ve shown my 3-point abil­ity and I think I think I can do other things out there but it’s de­pen­dent on the time I get. I’m grate­ful for the time I get but when I get out there I need to shoot the 3, re­bound and run.”

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