On Tuesday, No. 7 Michigan State beat No. 15 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was one of the most impressive wins any team has notched all season, in part because Michigan State didn’t have two of its best players, frontcourt starters Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.
The Spartans were without Dawson and Payne again Saturday, when they faced Georgetown at Madison Square Garden, but this time fell to the Hoyas, 64-60. Guards Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera combined for 28 points and 10 rebounds to pace Georgetown in a much-needed win for John Thompson III's squad.
Whereas the Hawkeyes couldn’t take advantage of Michigan State’s battered frontcourt, the Hoyas did. Georgetown rebounded 46.9 percent of its misses and 62.9 percent of the Spartans; Michigan State cleared 37.1 and 53.1 percent, respectively.
Michigan State used its 12th different starting lineup this season. Forward Kenny Kaminski was benched because, according to Spartans coach Tom Izzo, “Kaminski couldn’t find the classroom – again." Spartans guard Gary Harris, who finished with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 4-of-10 from three-point range, buried a trey with 1:36 to go that brought Michigan State within two. But Jabril Trawick and Smith-Rivera took control in crunch time. The two guards combined for seven points inside the final 1:15 to ice the game.
Izzo called the loss, “Disappointing but not upsetting.”
That seems like a fair assessment. The Spartans did well to take down the Hawkeyes on the road earlier in the week. Just because they struggled against an underachieving yet capable Hoyas team doesn’t mean they’re bound to hit a skid in Big Ten play. If Michigan State falls to Penn State at home this week, then Spartans fans will have cause to be “upset.” But Michigan State, even if short-handed, should be able to beat the Nittany Lions.
This could be too little, too late for the Hoyas. They are 3-6 in Big East play – with all of their wins coming against the league’s bottom half (DePaul, St. John’s, Butler). Perhaps this win, which snapped a five-game losing streak, could spark a run from Thompson III’s team. The Hoyas have the talent; when Starks and Smith-Rivera are at their best, few backcourt tandems in the country can match them. Georgetown will need to overcome the loss of UCLA transfer center Josh Smith, who was ruled academically ineligible.
Or maybe this game will turn out to be a positive blip in an otherwise disappointing season. Even after Saturday’s win, that seems the more likely scenario. Georgetown's margin for error is thin. In any case, the Hoyas should be able to win at least four of their next seven games: at DePaul, vs. Butler, vs. Providence, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall, vs. Xavier and at Marquette. It’s been a rough year for Thompson and his team. Maybe it won’t be so rough over the next couple of weeks.