EAST LANSING, Mich. — He was worried about all the extra practice time over the holiday break. And he was concerned his team might be stale because of it.
Then Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s team jumped out to a 12-5 lead before the game was 4 minutes old. By then, Iowa’s coach had called two time-outs to stop the deluge.
It didn’t matter.
On a night when No. 6 MSU had several reasons to come out flat, the Spartans played their sharpest half of the season, racing to a 22-point halftime lead and beating the Hawkeyes, 95-61, at the Breslin Center.
The victory was MSU’s 15th in a row — its longest winning streak since 1998-99. That team got to the Final Four. Izzo was asked if he saw the same kind of future for this year’s squad.
“I’m not sure we do yet,” he said. “Depends what you mean by something special. It’s been a special team already. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do … rebounded … defended. I feel like I’m (downgrading) us, I’m really not, I just think that we have so much more to learn. That’s why we are trying to coach ’em right to the end, because we don’t want to get casual.”
This explains why Izzo was berating walk-on Joe Sweeny with a minute left and a lead near 40. The guard hadn’t run a play properly, and Izzo didn’t want to give in for even a few seconds.
Draymond Green understood. The senior co-captain put up a double-double — 22 points and 10 rebounds — and had organized an impromptu team meeting just after the pregame meal to urge against sloppiness. He, too, was concerned about how the team would fare after seven days without a game.
“It was my job to relay to these guys that, ‘Hey, we can’t come out here sluggish,’ ” Green said.
The Spartans swarmed the Hawkeyes from the tip. They held Iowa to 36.5 percent shooting. Offensively, MSU displayed fluidity, moving the ball from strong side to weak side, passing down low and back out, setting up wide-open shots. MSU made 10 of 18 three-pointers. They had 25 assists on 37 baskets.
Keith Appling had nine assists and no turnovers.
“I’m looking for the extra pass,” he said.
So is center Derrick Nix, whose crisp passes from the block to the perimeter helped MSU grab the double-digit lead early.
“A lot of unselfish play,” Izzo said. “I can’t say I’ve had a team with as many guys playing a role and still guarding people as this team. That’s why we’ve had some success, with maybe not as one of the more talented teams we’ve had.”
He wanted to credit the Izzone, too. Earlier this week, Izzo criticized the energy of the student section that rings the court. But after a 3-hour meeting Monday night, in which Kevin Pauga, director of basketball operations, and leaders of the Izzone met to discuss strategy, the student section showed more life Tuesday.
“I thought they were great,” Izzo said. “Like I said, (there are) probably 330 schools that would love to have the Izzone any day of the week. … They are good. I’m just looking for great.”
For much of the night, the students serenaded Iowa’s players with nursery rhymes and fairy-tale songs. The players noticed.
There wasn’t much the Spartans missed, really, allaying Izzo’s fears.
“A week off is sometimes beneficial, but it was scary for me today,” he said. “I just didn’t know how we’d react.”
Now he does.