After falling hard to in-state rivals at home in the Breslin Center last Saturday night (and to a No. 7-ranking), Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo couldn't help but wonder if his players would be able to put the tough loss behind them on Tuesday night and move forward to a particularly-difficult match up with No. 15 Iowa.
Even more daunting was the fact that the Hawkeyes hadn't lost a home game in 20 meetings in Iowa City.
"I was concerned coming in whether we could get back up off the can. Not physically, we were going to be beat up. I was worried about mentally," said Izzo, whose Spartans lost to the Wolverines 80-75 on Saturday. "We didn't have time to be tired."
But this time around, some new names helped to step up to the plate for the injury-riddled Spartans (19-2, 8-1 Big Ten) that were once again without star Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.
Matt Costello scored 11 points and had 12 rebounds for MSU which helped to allow the Spartans to push it into overtime after a grueling battle on the floor as regulation time slipped away. Once in OT, Russell Byrd was able to nail a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to give Michigan State a six point lead and eliminated Iowa's hopes for a second overtime period.
While the Spartans were certainly playing with the sting of defeat left in their minds, Hawkeyes' head coach Fran McCaffery was certain that he saw something else going on behind the eyes of the players in green and white.
"I just didn't think we were tough enough. We weren't tough at all," McCaffery said. "I think they were being nice."
Keith Appling helped to step up for many of the injured Spartans and added 16 points for MSU, leading the team. Appling also led the team with three steals.
"We have guys that want to win," Appling said. "I feel like this win speaks volumes of the character of our team. We have a lot of guys that are able to dig down and compete. And at the end of the day I feel like that's what gave us the victory."
The Spartans may be once again out of the top five in the country, but the slow and steady climb back up before the NCAA tournament begins now.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.