EAST LANSING - Malik Hall returned at the start, and things seemed on the uptick for Michigan State basketball.
Tyson Walker left late, and things started to look bleak.
Both made significant plays to deliver the Spartans a back-and-forth, sometimes physical, sometimes sloppy, in-the-end thrilling 63-61 home win Thursday night against Iowa.
Walker left the game with 3:48 to play after appearing to twist his right ankle on a fall and drive. The senior guard returned with 1:50 to play, hitting the go-ahead jumper 28 seconds later, dove for a steal on a disruption in the paint with 1:13 to play, then assisted on Jaden Akins's baseline jumper with 47.1 to play.
After an Iowa layup by Connor McCaffery with 34.5 ticks left, MSU's A.J. Hoggard went to the free throw line but missed a 1-and-1 free throw with 20.9 seconds left, and the Hawkeyes rebounded and called timeout with 8.0 left.
Iowa got three shots at the rim, but each one bounced away as time expired.
Akins led the Spartans with 12 points, adding six rebounds. Walker finished with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting and added five assists. Hall played 25 minutes after missing three straight games with a left foot injury, scoring 11 points with four assists and three rebounds.
Mady Sissoko posted 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Joey Hauser had 11 points and six boards for the Spartans (14-7, 6-4 Big Ten), who hit the road for a rematch against No. 1 Purdue. Tipoff is 12:15 p.m. at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana (CBS). The Boilermakers beat MSU at Breslin on Jan. 16, 64-63.
The Spartans held Iowa's leading scorer Kris Murray to 11 points on 5 of 13 shooting, and he added eight rebounds. Ahron Ulis' 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting led the Hawkeyes (12-8, 4-5), while Filip Rebraca had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Bad to good
It was the third brutal start in four games for MSU, perhaps its worst.
The Spartans came out and missed one shot after another. Midrange jumpers, 3-pointers, layups - it didn't matter. Nine straight clanged off the rim.
Iowa took advantage by taking off in transition early and pounding the paint. When Murray flushed a dunk off a baseline inbounds pass out of the first media timeout, the Hawkeyes built a 10-0 lead just 4:09 into the game by draining five of their first seven attempts.
Everything flipped on the next MSU possession, and the midrange shots, 3-pointers and layups started to fall. Enter Hall for an emotional boost. Elevate Hall for some big buckets and a massive momentum swing.
Walker broke the scoring drought from deep. Hauser, Hall and Akins followed with jumpers. Hoggard's driving layup pulled the Spartans within a bucket to cap the 12-4 answering run.
Iowa went back up five before Hall scored five of eight straight MSU points, including a thunderous tomahawk dunk on a drive that gave the Spartans the lead with 4:50 before the break. Hoggard's layup then put them up three with inside 4 minutes left before halftime, and they carried a 30-29 edge into the locker room.
MSU made 12 of its last 22 shots. Hall went 3-for-5 for seven points while playing nearly 10 minutes. Akins also had seven points. Rebraca and Murray each had eight at halftime for Iowa.
Back and forth
The Hawkeyes again got off to a strong start, making five of their first six shots of the second half - with Ulis hitting for seven points and getting a double technical foul for jawing with Walker after a 3-pointer. Iowa went up 40-36 on Ulis' driving layup.
Rebraca's three-point play and two free throws up Iowa up six with 14:29 to play. Then Hall bullied his way to a layup, and Sissoko scored on back-to-back possessions to pull MSU into a tie. Hauser drilled a pair of 3-pointers to give the Spartans brief leads, but the Iowa had answers for each.
Hauser had three second-half 3-pointers as the Spartans made 6 of 13 from deep. Sissoko had seven points and seven rebounds after halftime.
Back and forth it went over the final 10 minutes. Hoggard and Walker drilled 3-pointers, but the Hawkeyes answered each time.
Then Walker went out with 3:48 to play after driving to the basket and colliding with Murray, falling to the floor and clutching his ankle.
Neither team would score again until Walker's triumphant return.
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball's defense stands tall in 63-61 win over Iowa