Xavier Tillman leads Michigan State Spartans men's basketball team in big comeback, eventually turning into win
By TRAVIS JOHNSON
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Tom Izzo thought his No. 16 Michigan State squad lacked toughness earlier this season.
To his pleasure, the Spartans played their grittiest game all year and gave themselves a chance to win what Izzo calls the most physical conference.
Xavier Tillman Sr. scored 23 points and had 15 rebounds to lead Michigan State over No. 20 Penn State 79-71 on Tuesday night. After No. 9 Maryland’s loss to Rutgers, the Terps and Spartans are tied for the top spot in the Big Ten with one game to go.
“If you take care of your own business, then you deserve to have something happen,” Izzo said. “Until we beat Iowa, Maryland and Penn State, we didn’t deserve it. We dug ourselves a hole.”
Rocket Watts added 18 points, Cassius Winston had 14 and Aaron Henry scored 12 for the Spartans (21-9, 13-6 Big Ten) who erased a 46-31 halftime deficit to win their fourth straight.
But they kept digging that hole beforehand.
The Spartans trailed by as many as 19 with 4:15 left in the first half, but scored the first nine points to start the second.
It sparked a dominant stretch of play in the paint for the Spartans who took their first lead of the game with 14:29 to play when Tillman dunked to make it 51-49.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions, who made 10 of 17 3-pointers in the first half, went 0-for-10 from long distance to start the second.
The Spartans continued to keep Penn State (21-9, 11-8) at bay from there and used a 14-6 run to take their biggest lead of the night, 65-55 with 9:41 left. John Harrar made back-to-back layups to pull Penn State within two with 4:56 to play, but the Nittany Lions wouldn’t get any closer.
Myreon Jones led Penn State with 16 points while Lamar Stevens had 15 and Mike Watkins had 12.
“It’s exciting to be on that level now and that can’t drop,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “We’re a damn good team. We just haven’t played 40 minutes yet.
The Nittany Lions used a pair of first-half runs to take control early.
They opened with a 10-2 advantage that featured two high-amplitude, alley-oop dunks from Watkins and a pair of 3s from Jamari Wheeler and Seth Lundy.
Michigan State cut it to 12-11, but Penn State made seven 3-pointers over the next 7:47 as part of 29-11 run that made it 41-22 with 4:15 left.