IOWA CITY — Russell Byrd has hit a couple of 3-pointers in a game before this season, so there was precedent for his super-sized 3-pointer late in Michigan State’s victory at Iowa.
Byrd did it against . . . North Florida on Dec. 17. Since then, the 6-7 junior guard had hit zero 3-pointers and had only seen double digits in minutes twice. Without stars Branden Dawson (broken hand) and Adreian Payne (sprained foot), MSU coach Tom Izzo found himself stirring the minutes among and no-names Tuesday night.
With 34 seconds left, Byrd sank a deep 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Spartans a 70-64 lead. MSU hung on from there and cleared a giant hurdle to stay competitive in the Big Ten conference race.
Asked about the probability of Russell hitting that type of game-clinching shot, Izzo responded, “Not very good. That would be a big one out in Vegas.”
A lot went into that 3-pointer. The first line of Byrd’s bio in the MSU game notes is “Enjoyed injury-free 2012-13 campaign after undergoing three surgeries on his left foot between May 2010 and May 2011.
Byrd has the story memorized. That 3-pointer, his only points of the game and fifth in Big Ten play, and some decent defense gave him a chance to tell it.
“I broke my left foot three times in a span of two years, so I didn’t do anything for two years,” Byrd said. “I was on crutches for a year and I was in a boot for a total of two years. Coaches have stuck with me and my teammates have stuck with me.”
Therein lies the theme to the No. 7 Spartans (19-2, 8-1 Big Ten) victory at No. 12 Iowa (16-5, 5-3). Byrd chipped in a 3-pointer, his fourth this season. Guard Travis Trice, averaging 6.8 points a game, scored 10 including 3 of 5 from the 3-point arc. Forward Matt Costello, averaging 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds a game, picked up the slack for Dawsen and Payne — perhaps the best inside combo in the league — with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Stars Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine weren’t exactly scuffed Nikes, combining for 28 points and five treys, but Dawsen and Payne average 26 points and 16 rebounds.
“We needed a little bit of everything from everybody, plays like Russell’s shot,” Trice said. “We’re in the locker room afterward celebrating with him, chanting his name and throwing water on him. It’s a big moment for him, he’s been through a lot.”
Izzo started his postgame with “I’m not even sure what to say about that game.” About 10 minutes later, after sorting through all the contributions from unlikely places, he said a lot about the game.
“I’m going to look back at this day whether we’re at the top or the bottom [of the Big Ten title race],” Izzo said. “It’s just one of those days you appreciate.”