Draymond Green of the Spartans holds his head on the bench with an injured ankle and four fouls Thursday in East Lansing. He eventually fouled out. (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News)
East Lansing -- On a strange, frantic night, Michigan finally found something, and scrapped mightily to keep it. And Michigan State showed unequivocally it's missing something, and must hunt mightily to find it.
This is how it works in bitter rivalries. The most-important victory for the Wolverines under John Beilein was a staggering blow for the Spartans. A tough season for Tom Izzo's group just got a whole lot tougher. A tough season for Michigan just got unexpectedly brighter.
How do you figure this? Here was young Michigan making the big shots at the end, with Stu Douglass stone-cold clutch on the final two baskets. The Wolverines hung on for a 61-57 win Thursday night at Breslin Center, their first victory here in 11 tries, in 14 years, thanks to a Douglass 3-point dagger with 20.2 seconds left. How do you figure this? Here was veteran Michigan State, recently stung by the dismissal of guard Korie Lucious, playing lost at times, feisty at times, and then missing key layups and key 3-pointers, missing a little bit of everything.
Izzo credited the Wolverines, and they were poised in a raucous environment. Zack Novak hit six of eight 3-pointers and Michigan played the game Michigan State loves — rebounding and clogging the middle. A program-turner? Well, let's be careful with a Michigan team now 12-9, 2-6 in the Big Ten. But it could be a season-turner.
Two seasons may have hung in the balance, and the Spartans are floundering as badly as they have in recent memory. From No. 2 in the preseason, they're 12-8, 4-4 in the Big Ten, and will have to scrap to ensure another NCAA Tournament bid.
"Just beating Michigan State — they have a tremendous program and have been doing so many things so well for so many years," Beilein said. "To win is a great thing.
"That was a very sweet fight song we just sang."
'They deserved to win'
It's only a step for the Wolverines, although a big one. They remain a ton of steps behind the Spartans, so no one is restoring big-brother status just yet. This was Michigan's first victory over Michigan State in men's basketball or football in approximately 1,181 days, give or take 15 seconds, not that anyone was counting in East Lansing.
That clock stops and a new one starts. Michigan showed plenty, and without a senior on its roster, there is promise. Guards Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. were relentlessly aggressive, and should only get better. The Wolverines rebounded the Spartans to a standstill and stuffed the inside tandem of Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. Only Kalin Lucas' 27 points made this close, as Michigan State sliced a 14-point deficit to two.
Izzo doesn't cede control of anything with one loss. But he knows, more than ever, he has to gain control of a flawed team. Lucious' absence was felt, with the Spartans collecting only two bench points. The defensive ferocity isn't there, and while Durrell Summers has been a primary culprit, he isn't the only one.
This was such an unusual night, nobody seemed to know how to act. The Wolverines were ecstatic, but calm on the floor as the game ended.
Izzo was frustrated, but calm as he tried to explain what happened. Mostly, he was stunned to see Michigan hit so many shots.
"They put it all together and they deserved to win," Izzo said. "It was a tough week, but there are a lot of tough times in this job. It's my responsibility to get us out of the gutter. We're not gonna quit on this. I've been in this too long. I don't know how we'll play, but we're not gonna quit. We'll get something back."
'They took everything away'
Green shook his head when asked how Michigan smothered the inside game. Beilein's group sagged back, dared the Spartans to hit from the outside, and they couldn't.
"Every time I caught the ball, I saw two or three people," Green said. "They just completely took everything away in the middle."
The Wolverines took it with poise, and at times, with force. And that's the astonishing part. This is a team that has played well against the best, losing close games to Syracuse, Kansas and Ohio State. But the Wolverines also came in with a six-game losing streak, in desperate need of something good to happen.
They ran into a Michigan State team that has experienced mostly bad things since the summer, with Chris Allen leaving, then Derrick Nix almost leaving, then Lucious gone. It's getting harder and harder to say the Spartans will be fine come March, and this will be Izzo's most-challenging stretch in a long time.
For the Wolverines, we'll see if it launches a loftier stretch. It certainly helps Beilein and his young team, perception-wise, confidence-wise. One game doesn't change everything, not unless you sustain it. One game doesn't ruin everything, not unless you let it.
By the numbers
1,181 -- Days since Michigan last beat Michigan State in football or men's basketball
11/3/07 -- Last time Michigan triumphed, in football, a 28-24 victory after which running back Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as "little brother"
81 -- Margin of victory in Michigan State's seven-game winning streak (three football, four basketball)
Michigan State Tom Izzo paces the floor in frustration, and it was ...
Michigan freshman Tim Hardaway Jr., putting up a shot over Michigan ... (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News)
Darius Morris celebrates the free throw that ices the win, just the ...
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