EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan State's struggles on the road have hurt its chances for a Big Ten title.
The most recent road loss, Saturday's 85-76 setback at Penn State, leaves the Spartans in fourth place in the conference behind Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin.
With its conference season at the halfway point, the Spartans trail the first place Boilermakers by only one game. But the toughest part of Michigan State's schedule comes up soon. After the Spartans (19-3, 7-2 Big Ten) host last-place Northwestern (7-12, 0-8) next Saturday, they hit the road for back-to-back trips to Purdue and Indiana.
Michigan State, which fell three spots to No. 11 in The Associated Poll released Monday, is unbeaten at home, but five of its last nine regular season games are away from the Breslin Center.
"We need to be a little tougher than we've been on the road," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday at his weekly press conference.
"We are going to get people's best shots. But you still have to find a way to win. And we didn't do that, and I guess that's the disturbing part. And yet I am going to make sure that I keep reiterating the fact that we're 19-3, not 3-19. And we're going to get better."
Michigan State's other disappointing road loss came Jan. 12 at Iowa. Both the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions are in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
Izzo took responsibility for the upset road losses. But some of the recent road developments are somewhat out of his hands. Penn State, for example, went 34-of-51 from the foul line to outscore the Spartans from the stripe by 20 points.
Izzo said it appeared the Spartans did not properly respect Penn State, based on how his team played defense and committed turnovers in the early going.
Michigan State made just 2 of 14 from 3-point range. Standout guard Drew Neitzel finished with just six points on 2 of 10 shooting.
The shooting and defense will have to become more consistent if Michigan State expects to rally for its first Big Ten regular season crown since 2001.
The Spartans are scheduled to resume practice Tuesday. Izzo said the week of preparation may help the team in the long run, but he'd prefer to a play another game sooner rather than later coming off the Penn State loss.
"The practice time will be good, but not getting to play again will probably irk me for five or six days," Izzo said.