ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Both teams kept the lead up to this game respectful. No bulletin board material, no trash talk, and measured, calm comments from both coaches. No. 7 Michigan and No. 10 Michigan State were content to let their play on the floor do the talking. The first half produced blistering basketball unseen by many as Michigan and Michigan State combined for 76 points and the Spartans led by only two. As the second half unfolded, Michigan came apart down the stretch, something rarely seen at home over the last several years. Michigan State (23-5, 14-3 Big Ten) beat Michigan (24-4, 13-4 B1G) for the first time since January 2017 as the Spartans collected a 77-70 victory in Ann Arbor.
“They have got a very good team that just didn’t make some shots,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the difference in Sunday’s game. The Spartans outshot the Wolverines 50% to 39%. “I am pleased yet I have tremendous respect for the team we beat today.”
John Beilein, sage as ever, got down to brass tacks after the game. He wanted his fan base to remember that this loss does not signal the end of Michigan’s season or the goals it is chasing. Beilein didn’t even want to hear about the rematch in less than 13 days.
“That game 13 days from now will never enter any of our minds. We got Nebraska Thursday and then we got Maryland and then we got our last game,” Beilein said. “We will watch this game to get better for Nebraska and we will watch this game again before that (the MSU rematch) game because we have a week. There is so much more to our season than beating Michigan State and I know that hurts some of our fans who love this game. We have two incredible programs in this state.”
The first half started with a bang and never let up. The Wolverines and Spartans traded the lead 12 times in twenty minutes. The Spartans grabbed a 27-20 lead off a three-pointer from Kenny Goins with 10:15 remaining in the opening period. Michigan responded with an 8-0 run of its own to reclaim the lead. Both teams made five three-pointers, neither team led by more than seven points. It was a battle between the Big Ten’s best, and exactly what fans had been waiting for.
Charles Matthews only logged eight minutes in the first half, he was tagged with the game’s first foul just forty seconds after tip-off when he hacked Matt McQuaid on a three-point attempt. When Matthews did return, he landed awkwardly on his right ankle, which forced him to take another seat, return to the locker room for treatment then finally get back into the game with 5:26 left in the half. Matthews, who is averaging 13.6 points per game in the month of February, only scored two points in the first half. In the second half, it was clear that the ankle was bothering Matthews, and another Wolverine would need to step up to aid Michigan’s cause.
As the second half began, Michigan found its spark, and it came in the form of a 6’7 freshman playing Michigan State for the first time. Ignas Brazdeikis told reporters Friday he understood how big the game would be for Michigan, but that he wasn’t going to let the hype of the game consume him. After a seven-point first half, Brazdeikis drew two fouls early in the second half that led to a 5-5 performance from the free throw line to put Michigan back in front 44-41. When Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid was called for an off-ball foul on Brazdeikis, the freshman ran past the scorer’s table and towards the Michigan bench, arms in the air imploring the Maize Rage to get excited. Brazdeikis also gave Michigan its largest lead of the game when a baseline drive resulted in a two-hand rim-rocking dunk that pushed the Crisler faithful past fervor and into full-on pandemonium. As Brazdeikis took a seat with Michigan leading 51-47 with 13:51 to play, the pendulum of fortune shifted back in the direction of Michigan State. Brazdeikis finished the game with 16 points and 9 rebounds.
“They just executed really well, they were definitely prepared for what we could do and offensively they were really poised, they played a great game,” Brazdeikis said after the loss. I asked Brazdeikis what he learned in his first game against the arch-rival Spartans: “What I learned is that they are a great team,” he responded. “Both teams really want the win and we gotta be more ready next time.”
In a game that was a chess match between two of the nation’s best coaches,. The Spartans completed a 7-0 run to reclaim the lead at 52-51 and led 54-53 with ten minutes remaining in the game. Michigan went 1 for 8 from the floor for a five-minute stretch while the Spartans maintained a small lead, never leading by more than five points until Cassius Winston was able to push the lead to seven with 6:10 remaining. The Spartans were able to take advantage of a visibly fatigued Jon Teske and Matthews being hobbled by his ankle injury as they grinded the clock down, scoring at just the right moments to ensure their lead remained intact. Michigan State junior Cassius Winston played the entire forty minutes Sunday and had a game-high 27 points and 8 assists. Spartan senior Kenny Goins had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“We have had a lot of point guards come into this building, I have coached some great ones,” Beilein said regarding Winston. “That was as good a performance you are gonna see.”
Izzo listed the win as the biggest of his career at Crisler Center. Sunday was the first time Michigan lost at home when ranked in the Top 10 since the Spartans beat the Wolverines at Crisler in 1986. “I think under the circumstances it was the biggest win, yeah I really do,” Izzo replied. “You beat a team like this on their home court on a day like this, it is special.”
Michigan made one final stand in the game’s last minute. Zavier Simpson hit a layup to close the gap to eight points, on the ensuing possession, McQuaid lost the ball and Jordan Poole hit a triple to draw Michigan within 65-60. Michigan State hit two free throws and Poole made another 3 to cut it to 72-68. It was a noble effort, but similar to the Wolverines loss at Penn State, it was too little, too late. The final buzzer sounded and MSU defeated Michigan for the first time since January 29, 2017, snapping a three-game losing streak to the Wolverines. Simpson led the Wolverines with a team-high 19 points.
“Let’s give a lot of credit where it is due, they have got a great program and they got it done today. We are gonna do everything we can to learn from it and get better,” Beilein said. He also walked away from the podium in the media room firmly saying “Michigan will get better.”
For the Wolverines, it’s back to the drawing board with Nebraska coming to town on Thursday for Senior Night. Michigan’s chances at winning the Big Ten regular-season championship took a hit Sunday, but aren’t gone just yet. The title decider may very well be on March 9 at Breslin Center, but it was clear that Michigan’s offensive woes are far from behind them. The Wolverines have Nebraska, then two tricky road games in Maryland and the Spartans. A fix can be found for those games, but there was none for Michigan’s poor shooting Sunday that doomed the Wolverines to their first home loss in 13 months.