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No. 5 Michigan State will be get better as they get healthier

Dec 31, 2013, 7:37 PM EST

Michigan State v Penn State Getty Images

No. 5 Michigan State looked like they were going to be in for a fight.

A scrappy Nittany Lions team had opened up a 47-40 halftime lead over the Spartans as D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier showed why they deserved to be in the conversation for the midseason all-Big Ten team.

The Spartans have been banged up all season, which has made it easy to forget that they were actually NBCSports.com’s preseason No. 1 team in the country.

And in the second half, Sparty did everything they could to remind college hoop fans that they are still here. The Spartans opened up the half on a 30-8 run and eventually outscored the Nittany Lions 39-16 in the second stanza. Branden Dawson led the way with 20 points and nine boards while Gary Harris (13 points), Keith Appling (14 points, three assists), and Denzel Valentine (nine points, six assists) all played well.

Most impressive? The Spartans were dominant without Adreian Payne doing anything offensively.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just any old Penn State team. This may not be a group destined for the NCAA tournament, but this is a talented, scrappy group that is better than the team that beat Michigan in State College last February.

That second half dominance shouldn’t be overlooked simply because it came against Penn State.

So if you’ve forgotten because of the injuries, or if the discussion about Syracuse or Arizona or Kentucky has made you over look the Spartans, don’t.

There is a reason this team was a favorite entering the season. We’re starting to see why now.