Draymond Green had 23 points and 12 rebounds and made some timely shots to help the 11th-ranked Spartans pull away from the Nittany Lions in a 77-57 win Wednesday night.
"He's supposed to do that," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And, we're supposed to get him the ball."
The Spartans (19-5, 8-3 Big Ten) are a game behind conference-leading and third-ranked Ohio State, setting up a big game Saturday on the road against the Buckeyes.
"It's huge for us and it's huge for them," Green said. "We'll prepare like it's an NCAA tournament game."
The last-place Nittany Lions (10-15, 2-10) have lost five straight and eight of nine.
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"We compete for stretches, but we need to compete for 40 minutes," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We need to do that soon and time is running out."
Michigan State's Adreian Payne matched a career high with 12 points and freshman Branden Dawson also had 12, scoring in double figures for the fifth straight game.
Tim Frazier scored 19 on 6-of-18 shooting and had seven assists with six turnovers for the Nittany Lions, who got 12 points from reserve Jermaine Marshall and nine points from Nick Colella.
Penn State posed a brief threat by pulling within five points midway through the second half, but Green made a layup on the next possession.
Frazier later made a jumper to make it 57-51, but the Nittany Lions couldn't stop Green from making a three-point play on the next trip down the court with 7:03 left in the game.
"Coach Izzo did a great job, he got the ball to Draymond Green," Chambers said. "We couldn't defend him."
The Spartans closed the game with a 22-8 run, restoring the rout and improving to 15-0 at home this season. Izzo, though, was discouraged by the inconsistent performance.
"I thought we were bad, good, bad, good, bad, good, good," Izzo said.
Penn State, which has lost all seven of its road conference games, got off to an awful start and finished poorly.
The Nittany Lions missed their first eight shots and needed nearly 8 minutes to score, but didn't trail by too much because the Spartans also started 0-for-8 before beginning to make shots to build a 9-0 lead.
Michigan State led 33-19 at halftime despite making just 27 percent of its shots and turning the ball over 10 times because Penn State shot 21 percent and had nine turnovers.
"We thrive on our defense and did a good job on Frazier," said Michigan State guard Keith Appling, who had 10 points and seven assists. "But we took too many jump shots. We had to go inside, then shoot the 3."
The Spartans were effective early in the second half on offense, but later let the Nittany Lions score 10 straight points and didn't take advantage of their size inside.
Green, though, made enough shots, assists, rebounds and solid plays on defense to avoid a total collapse.
"That's what great players do," Chambers said. "That's what seniors do, that's what winners do."