EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has seen his team come out sluggish in the first half before and he didn't like the latest effort any better, despite a happy ending.
The Spartans (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) overcame a rough 20 minutes to beat Bowling Green 74-60 on Saturday night, using better energy and balanced scoring to pull away with a 20-3 run."One problem with being a veteran coach is that your nightmares and fears all come true," Izzo said. "I want to give a lot of credit to Bowling Green for getting every loose ball. But we weren't sharp and got outhustled for half of that game. We took a little step backward."With the outcome in doubt, Brandon Wood and Branden Dawson stepped up in the second half, combining for 19 points. Wood finished with a game-high 16, while Dawson matched his career high with 13.Derrick Nix added a career-best 14 points to go with seven rebounds for the Spartans (9-2), who have won nine straight. Draymond Green had 12 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double this season."I've been playing well. I've just got to keep playing up to my potential," Nix said. "A lot of people don't believe in me, but I don't care. I've just got to stay focused, and I feel like all my hard work is paying off."Jehvon Clarke had 14 points, A'uston Calhoun 12 and Jordon Crawford 11 for the Falcons (5-5), who outplayed Michigan State for much of the first half before trailing 35-33 at the break.Bowling Green, the first visiting team to win in Breslin Center in December 1989, had a 25-16 edge in rebounds over the first 20 minutes, including a stunning 13-5 advantage in offensive boards. But the Spartans wound up leading 39-37 in that category."I thought the 13 offensive rebounds was a key stat," Falcons coach Louis Orr said. "We played with a lot of energy. We didn't shoot a great percentage. But I thought we had good possessions."The Falcons started fast in the second half, too, tying the game on Calhoun's layup. Green was called for a charge, his third foul.But Wood answered with a 3-pointer from the wing and Dawson added a three-point play for a 41-35 advantage, Michigan State's biggest of the evening to that point.When Wood fed Green in the post, a pair of free throws upped the margin to eight. Dawson followed with another basket and foul shot to make it 46-35 during an 11-0 run.After Bowling Green cut it to eight and appeared set to make it a six-point game, point guard Travis Trice soared to block a breakaway layup. Green fed Nix for a transition dunk.When Nix scored again on an inside move and a no-look pass from Trice, the lead grew to 55-38, ending any thought of an upset."We knew we needed to pick it up coming out in the second half or it would be a dogfight the entire game," said Green, who reached the 800-rebound mark in four seasons. "When our focus level is there and we're focused in, this team can be very good."Wood's alley-oop feed to Dawson for a reverse lay-in was the highlight of the last 10 minutes for the Spartans, who reverted to their early sloppiness and were outhustled again down the stretch.Michigan State shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and 47.2 percent for the game. The Falcons, who had shot at least 53 percent in three of their last four wins, were held to 37.5 percent.After scoring 102 points in the paint in the previous two games, Bowling Green was held to 36 inside. That was reflected in the Spartans' ability to get to the foul line, shooting 27 free throws to the Falcons' 10."I think we showed a little character, and that's what I asked for at halftime," Izzo said. "But I said to some of you that I thought this would be a tougher game because I liked that team on film. I think it has a chance to do some damage in that league."Michigan State will have two more chances, against UMKC on Monday and Lehigh on Thursday, to get ready for its Big Ten opener against Indiana on Dec. 28.Bowling Green is 0-2 in its five straight games away from home over a monthlong span.