Once the calendar hits February, avoiding a bad loss can often be as important as earning a big win.
The fourth-ranked Spartans somehow survived their trip to Iowa City on Tuesday night — and if they can beat No. 3 Purdue on Saturday, their hopes for a Big Ten title will remain intact.
Miles Bridges had 25 points and a crucial steal with five seconds left and fourth-ranked Michigan State rallied past lowly Iowa 96-93 for its seventh straight win.
Nick Ward added 17 points and Joshua Langford had 15 for the tired Spartans (23-3, 11-2 Big Ten), playing their fifth game in 12 days. But they got a serious scare from the Hawkeyes in what was supposed to be a tune-up for Saturday's huge home game against the Boilermakers.
"I hope y'all enjoyed the offensive fireworks, because I don't think either team played any defense," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of a game in which both teams shot over 50 percent. "These are the dog days."
And Michigan State had a star in Bridges to make the big plays down the stretch.
After trailing by as much as eight, Bridges hit a pair of free throws to give Michigan State a 92-91 lead with 1:02 left. He hit two more from the line to make it a 3-point game.
Tyler Cook pulled Iowa within 94-93 — and Bridges missed both of his free throws after his big steal with his team ahead by 3. But Nicholas Baer could only muster up a half-court shot for the Hawkeyes, and it bounced harmlessly off the rim.
Cook scored 26 points for Iowa (12-14, 3-10), which was coming off a 24-point loss at Penn State.
And yet the team that its fans thought it might see all year suddenly showed up against the Spartans.
Moss then gave the Hawkeyes their first lead, 61-60, with 14:16 left. Jordan Bohannon pushed it to 68-64 on a transition 3, but Kenny Goines drilled a 3 with 2:10 left to put Michigan State back ahead 90-89.
"I'll give you the best excuse I can give you. The five games in 12 days is really taking a toll on us," Izzo said. "We were beat."
Bohannon had 17 on five 3s despite missing Monday's practice with an illness for Iowa, which clinched its first losing season in the Big Ten since 2011-12.
"He's one tough dude," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Bohannon.