EAST LANSING – In three days, Michigan State beat Illinois and Ohio State, two teams ranked in the top five.
The Spartans didn't push OSU around the way it did the Fighting Illini, and that's okay because it revealed even more about this team.
MSU exemplified toughness, mental and physical, led by Aaron Henry, who played with tremendous poise in the final minutes. It was Michigan State basketball, the kind you expect to see in late-February.
"I feel like guys are putting more time in," MSU forward Gabe Brown said. "Everyone is putting more time in ... it's starting to pay off."
A month ago, the Spartans don't win a game like this.
Two weeks ago, Michigan State experienced the worst home loss of the Tom Izzo era.
They simply weren't in a position to play from behind or remain calm and comeback.
Henry and Joshua Langford sat for an extended period during the first half, but MSU weathered the storm defensively and trailed by just five points.
"We started that second half out 1-for-9, and we ended it 10-for-13," said Izzo. "I thought that was big. I thought it was surviving the first half without my two superstars ... yet we found a way to win. It was an absolute war."
When they returned, Michigan State struggled, but both stepped up and refused to lose.
Henry did everything from running point guard to defending Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell while hitting the biggest shot of the night, handing MSU a 66-63 advantage with under a minute remaining.
Again, a month ago, the Spartans weren't making those winning plays.
Langford finished with eight points (2-for-7), four rebounds, five assists, and one block. It wasn't his best night, and at one point, he was 0-for-5, but the fifth-year senior persevered, as he always does.
In crunch time, Langford pulled up without hesitation, draining a shot he's hit in practice more times than not. It sealed the victory.
"I call that one six in the morning; there ain’t a day when he (Langford) isn’t taking that shot when I walk in the gym at six in the morning," Henry said. "That was going in when it left his hand."
An Ohio State team that bullied Michigan State and beat them by 17-points in January couldn't do much to stop MSU from hanging around tonight. And when it mattered, the Spartans made plays.
We are three days away from March; that's no coincidence. Izzo has done it again, and once more, the Spartans are making noise at the right time of year.
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