By JOHN BAUERNFEIND | IDS
For the second consecutive week, the IU men’s basketball team (12-6, 2-3) will face the No. 3 team in the country.
Michigan State enters tonight’s contest on a 10-game winning streak.
The Spartans’ most recent victory was against Illinois, whom they defeated by 16 points Saturday night.
The Hoosiers, on the other hand, are coming off a week that included a win against then-No. 3 ranked Wisconsin and a loss to a Northwestern team that has 10 losses and 9 wins.
IU and Michigan State played each other earlier this month, with the Spartans taking down the Hoosiers 73-56 with sophomore guard Gary Harris’s career-high 26 points.
IU Assistant Coach Tim Buckley said Michigan State dictated much of what went on during the first matchup.
“We’ve got to do a better job of decision making and taking care of the ball,” Buckley said. “They did a good job of shooting the gap at times, and coming up with steals and scoring points in situations where we weren’t able to get our defense set.”
Harris leads Michigan State in scoring with an average 17.9 points per game.
He ranks second in the Big Ten behind University of Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who averages 18 points per game.
Harris has played three games against the Hoosiers in his career, during which the Fishers, Ind., native averaged 22 points.
Sophomore forward Austin Etherington recognized Harris, whom he played against in high school at Hamilton Heights (Ind.), as a strong competitor.
“He’s a great player, you know — he’s one of the best guards in the country right now,” Etherington said. “There’s nothing really that’s changed from his game. He’s a great player, he hits shots and he does what his team needs.”
Crean reiterated the importance of slowing down Harris, but acknowledged that his team had difficulty with the matchup.
“We really let Gary Harris get far too comfortable and loose in the game and he did a phenomenal job,” Crean said. “And now he is playing even better than he was then.”
Michigan State will likely be without one of its top players Tuesday.
Senior forward Adreian Payne has missed his team’s last three games and is doubtful for tonight’s matchup.
Picking up his play in the absence of Payne is senior guard Keith Appling.
Appling averages 16.1 points per game, and, with 4.6 assists per game, ranks third in the Big Ten.
He is also second in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage, shooting 45.3 percent from behind the arc.
His stat line against the Hoosiers earlier this month was efficient.
The Detroit, Mich., native tallied 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting while holding himself to no turnovers.
For the season, the Spartans average 80.4 points per game, while limiting its opponents to just 63.8.
They rank second in the Big Ten in both field goal percentage offense and field goal percentage defense.
On average, Michigan State shoots the ball at 47.9 percent and holds its opponents to just 37.7 percent shooting.
Buckley said the Hoosiers prepared well during the past two days, adding what they learned from the previous two games.
“Making good decisions, trying to open up the lane a bit more with ball reversals,” Buckley said. “But obviously a lot of things that we can point to and a lot of areas that we’ve worked on in the past couple of days.
“Some of it’s just getting in the gym and getting ready to shoot the ball and getting good repetitions in that regard.”
Follow reporter John Bauernfeind on Twitter @JohnBauernfeind.