Playing as a No. 1-ranked team for the first time since 2000-01 on Monday, it took a little while for Michigan State to get things going.
That was not so much the case for senior Keith Appling, who had 16 of his career-high tying 25 points in the first half of the Spartans' 82-67 win against Portland.
"You gotta give a lot of credit to Keith," coach Tom Izzo said. "That was one of the great guard performances in many, many years. You look at how he shots, the decisions he made. Should have had 10-12 assists.
"He just did an unbelievable job defensively. He was worth the price of admission."
Appling hit on 4 of 4 3-pointers in the first half and hit his only attempt in the second half, while having seven assists to fuel Michigan State.
"I feel like I played pretty well," Appling said. "I still have a little more to give, but I'm just happy we were able to come out with the win."
Similar to Friday's struggles against Columbia, the outcome of the game was not certain early. The lead changed seven times in the first half in a back-and-forth start.
"It was very disappointing because we wanted to come out with a lot of energy and kind of jump on them early," Appling said, "but they kind of hit us in the mouth and took it to us first so that was a little bit disappointing, but we were able to pick it up in the second half."
The Spartans led 36-32 at halftime and scored the first five points of the second half, but Portland went on a 14-6 run to tie the game 46-46.
Then Travis Trice provided the spark the Spartans were waiting for with a 3-pointer followed by a steal and lay up in a span of 18 seconds, which Appling said was when momentum swung.
"I felt like that was a momentum booster for us," he said. "I kind of figured that's where we would kind of take off a little bit."
The five points were part of a 14-4 run featuring four different players hitting 3-pointers.
After two games of losing the battle on the glass, the Dawson-led effort gave the Spartans a 38-34 advantage on the glass.
While the win moved the top-ranked Spartans to 4-0, Izzo said there is little doubt his team is a work in progress.
"Nobody has to worry about us peaking in November, we haven't done that yet," Izzo said. "We took a big step forward in the second half of that game."