IOWA CITY, Iowa - Keith Appling's four crucial free throws Thursday night weren't nearly as exciting as his late basket in Michigan State's win over Kansas back in November.
Still, Appling showed why the little things make all the difference between winning and losing on the road in the Big Ten.
Branden Dawson scored a career-high 17 points, including a late steal and tiebreaking dunk, and Appling went 4 for 4 from the line in the final 20 seconds as the 22nd-ranked Spartans sneaked past Iowa 62-59.
Gary Harris added 14 points despite hurting his left shoulder in the first half for the Spartans (13-3, 2-1), who hung on for their eighth win in nine games.
"There's a lot of things we need to get better at. But that was a big win on the road, especially the way we played," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Dawson provided the game-changing play when he ripped the ball away from Iowa freshman Mike Gesell and gave Michigan State a 58-56 lead with 49 seconds left.
But Appling, whose acrobatic layup with 14 seconds left beat the Jayhawks two months ago, provided the buffer with four straight from the foul line.
"I said, 'Keith, it's going to be like Kansas. I'm putting it in your hands. You've got to make some decisions,' " Izzo said.
By contrast, Hawkeyes freshman Anthony Clemmons missed a free throw that would have tied it with 12 seconds to go. He also airballed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as Iowa (11-5, 0-3) lost its third straight.
The Hawkeyes were short-handed without Devyn Marble -- and none too pleased about Michigan State's 21-15 edge at the free throw line.
Zach McCabe led Iowa with 15 points and fellow reserve Melsahn Basabe added 14. But the Hawkeyes could've used a healthy Marble, who is sixth in the Big Ten with 15.5 points a game.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Marble, who sprained his ankle this week in practice, is "iffy" for Sunday's game at Northwestern.
"It was tough offensively to get into the kind of rhythm we needed. They are a very physical team defensively, and we needed a guy who can break his man down and get to the rim and get to the free throw line. Of course, I don't know if anyone would have gotten to the free throw line most of the night," McCaffery said.
For whatever reason, Michigan State and Iowa have made a habit of teaming up for some ugly basketball in recent years.
The play was brutal at times on Thursday.
The Spartans and Hawkeyes slogged through a series of sloppy possessions early in the second half, with Michigan State slowly chipping away at Iowa's slim lead.
The Spartans finally took their first lead, 43-42, on a nifty layup by Appling off yet another Iowa turnover with just under 9 minutes left. Harris followed with a 3, and Adreian Payne drove the lane and threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk to put the Spartans ahead 48-45 with 6:15 left.
Michigan State blew the lead but tied it back up at 56 on Harris' three free throws with 1:04 left.
Appling had 12 points for Michigan State, which forced 18 turnovers.
McCaffery openly questioned his team's effort following an embarrassing 95-67 loss at Michigan last Sunday. The Hawkeyes got the message, but simply couldn't sustain their early energy.
Iowa opened with a 7-0 run and hit nine of its first 12 shots in building an early 10-point advantage. Aaron White -- whose poor defense against the Wolverines was a particular sore spot for McCaffery -- then jumped a passing lane for a transition dunk and a 24-12 lead.
White had 11 points. But the Hawkeyes shot just 4 of 16 from 3-point range and let Michigan State get within 28-24 by halftime.
"We didn't play with any toughness, and that's disappointing. Offensively we played with no toughness whatsoever. Defensively we did. On the glass, we did. But you have the other end of the floor," McCaffery said.
Michigan State has a pair of very winnable games coming up; Nebraska at home on Sunday and at Penn State next Wednesday, before a showdown with No. 15 Ohio State in East Lansing on Jan. 19.
But the Spartans know they can't let up -- even if the path seems clearer for a couple of weeks.
"It's going to be like that every night, pretty much. We were able to reach down, fight through adversity and come out with the win," Appling said.
Oregon 70, No. 4 Arizona 66
EUGENE, Ore. - After racking up victories against mostly inferior opponents, Oregon finally got a signature win.
Led by the all-around efforts of senior E.J. Singler and some early resiliency, the Ducks handed No. 4 Arizona its first loss of the season with a 70-66 victory Thursday night.
Singler had 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals for Oregon (13-2, 2-0 Pac-12), which overcame an 11-0 deficit to lead for the final 27:32. The Ducks ran their home winning streak to 17 games, including all 11 this season.
"I think we've been playing really well the whole season," Singler said. "I think we're a really good team. This game really showed our team we can compete with a lot of different people."
Dominic Artis, Carlos Emory and Tony Woods had 10 points apiece for Oregon.
Mark Lyons scored 21 and Solomon Hill added 16 points to lead the Wildcats (14-1, 2-1), who entered as one of three undefeated teams in the country.
No. 9 Gonzaga 83, Saint Mary's 78
SPOKANE, Wash. - If close wins build character, No. 9 Gonzaga has all it needs by now.
Kelly Olynyk scored 31 points and the Bulldogs held off a furious comeback by Saint Mary's to win 83-78 on Thursday night in the latest installment of one of the best rivalries on the West Coast.
"It would be nice to get some 30- or 40-point blowouts," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We've been in enough close games."
Kevin Pangos added 22 points for Gonzaga (16-1, 3-0 West Coast Conference), which has won seven straight since losing at home to Illinois.
"They've done a heck of a job to get to 16-1," Few said of his team. "We've had emotional game after emotional game after emotional game."
It was Olynyk's second consecutive 30-point game, the first time a Gonzaga player has done that since Adam Morrison in 2006.
Stephen Holt led Saint Mary's (12-4, 1-1) with 23 points.
Northwestern 70, Penn State 54
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Dave Sobolewski scored 18 points and Jared Swopshire added 17 as Northwestern handled cold-shooting Penn State with ease in a 70-54 Big Ten Conference victory Thursday night.
The Wildcats (10-6, 1-2) used a 25-4 run over an 11-minute span to lead by as many as 17 points, 33-16, in the first half. Penn State didn't score a basket for nearly seven minutes during that span.
Northwestern shooters maintained their touch after the break, as the Wildcats made 5 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half. Freshman Kale Abrahamson matched his season-high with three 3s in the game.
Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers' frustration was evident as he knelt often at the end of the Penn State bench with his head hung low. The Lions went to a full-court press early in the second half but found little success in slowing down Northwestern.
Sobolewski finished a tightly contested layup on a fast break at the 14:07 mark to put Northwestern ahead by 21 points, 45-24. A pair of free throws by Jermaine Marshall cut the Wildcats' lead to 46-33 with 11:39 remaining, but Northwestern countered with a 10-0 run to keep Penn State at bay.
Northwestern relied on the long ball throughout the game, and it was a pair of deep 3-pointers that gave head coach Bill Carmody's squad momentum during that run. Redshirt freshman Tre Demps hit a 3 from the corner to start the stretch.
The Wildcats had four different players score in double-digits, as Reggie Hearn scored 14 and Abrahamson added 10. The crowd of 6,479 at the Bryce Jordan Center began filing out in the waning minutes.
Xavier 57, Temple 52
CINCINNATI - Travis Taylor made two free throws with 11 seconds left, and Xavier ended its longest losing streak in 31 years by beating Temple 57-52 on Thursday night despite missing point guard Dee Davis for most of the game.
Davis hurt his left wrist in a pile-up with 7:15 left in the first half and went for X-rays. He returned with a minute left and missed two free throws, but got the final rebound.
Semaj Christon had 16 points for Xavier, which dominated the boards 42-31 against the taller Owls and overcame 10 second-half turnovers with its point guard missing. Taylor had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
North Dakota State 67, IPFW 55
FARGO, N.D. - Taylor Braun scored 16 points to lead North Dakota State to a 67-55 win over IPFW on Thursday night.
Luis Jacobo scored 21 points for the Mastodons (8-10, 1/3 Summit League).
Braun was 7 of 12 from the field for North Dakota State (14-3, 5-0). Lawrence Alexander had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Marshall Bjorklund had 14 points, and TrayVonn Wright added 10.
North Dakota State led 37-32 at halftime and never trailed in the second half. North Dakota State's largest lead was 16. North Dakota State shot 57 percent from the field for the game, while IPFW shot 37.7 percent.
South Dakota State 81, Oakland 74
BROOKINGS, S.D. - Tony Fiegen scored 24 points and Jordan Dykstra had a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds to pace South Dakota State to an 81-74 victory over Oakland on Thursday night.
Dykstra scored eight key points in the final 10 minutes of the game to help South Dakota State (12-6, 3-2 Summit) pull away.
Nate Wolters scored 16 points and dished out nine assists for South Dakota State. Chad White scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
Corey Petros led Oakland (7-11, 2-2) with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Travis Bader scored 21 points, and Ryan Bass scored 16, including three 3-pointers.