Michigan State coach Tom Izzo isn’t sure where his team would be if not for the efforts of Gary Harris, though the freshman hasn’t been the only one playing through pain.
Harris and a host of other banged-up Spartans look to help No. 12 Michigan State earn a fifth straight victory over host Purdue on Saturday night.
The Spartans again looked uninspired at times in the first half of Wednesday’s 61-50 home victory over No. 18 Minnesota, leading to their fourth consecutive halftime deficit.
Led by Harris, who scored 15 points and hit 4 of 8 from 3-point range in 36 minutes despite being noticeably bothered by back spasms, Michigan State (19-4, 8-2 Big Ten) won for the eighth time in nine games since dropping its conference opener at Minnesota on Dec. 31.
“I just kept asking him, ‘Can you go?’ I don’t know what we would have done (without him) at that point,” Izzo told the school’s official website. “That kid showed me some character and heart. That was a way more heroic effort than it looked because he was dragging his whole body.
“It was one of the guttier performances (I’ve seen) in my career.”
Harris will be one of several Spartans battling through injuries Saturday. Keith Appling hurt his right shoulder with less than two minutes remaining Wednesday, and Adreian Payne took an elbow to the nose and missed part of the second half.
Branden Dawson has been dealing with a sprained right ankle, while Travis Trice sat out because of a head injury. All but Trice, who may not be able to return until the Spartans host No. 3 Michigan on Tuesday, are expected to play versus Purdue.
Izzo, though, won’t allow the injuries to be an excuse for the team’s lackluster first-half efforts, and he doesn’t believe Michigan State will be able to sustain its success without increased energy – especially from Dawson.
“I’m proud of the fact that in the last two second halves we responded, but I’m disappointed that a good team should have to get to that point because you’re going to run out of those situations if you don’t take care of business earlier,” Izzo said.
“This is not going to be a great team until Branden Dawson plays with the energy he’s capable of, until we get a little more healthy and we realize we’ve got to communicate and check better. If that happens, this team has a chance to be better than I thought. If it doesn’t happen, this team will be worse than you think.”
The Spartans have looked pretty good during their four-game winning streak against Purdue, winning by an average of 20.0 points. Harris had a season-best 22 points and hit 6 of 8 from 3-point range in an 84-61 home win over the Boilermakers on Jan. 5.
Purdue (12-11, 5-5) has battled through inconsistency all season, having lost three of its previous four games before beating woeful Penn State 58-49 on Tuesday.
A.J. Hammons, who scored 20 points in the first meeting with the Spartans, had 15 and 12 rebounds against the Nittany Lions. The 7-foot freshman is averaging 21.3 points and shooting 55.3 percent over his last three games.
“We really want to establish him down low,” coach Matt Painter said.
Michigan State ranks third in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (38.7) while the Boilermakers are shooting 38.1 percent over their last five games. Purdue has hit a dismal 34.7 percent from the field during its skid against the Spartans.
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