East Lansing -- Michigan State didn't win a Big Ten title Sunday. Fans were screaming about tacos rather than championships during the final moments of a 71-61 victory over Northwestern to end the Big Ten regular season. Sometime in the first half, the Spartans found out that Indiana stunned Michigan and dashed their hopes of sharing the Big Ten title.
They turned from good Sparty to bad and slugged their way past the Wildcats during a day that had Spartans thinking the unthinkable.
Some of you felt dirty because MSU is all about putting up banners and building a basketball legacy — even if you have to share it with the bad guys down the road. Of course some Spartans held true to their hatred of Michigan.
One guy read a text from a buddy who is one of the biggest Spartan fans in the world.
"I'd rather finish second than to share a title with those SOB's."
He got his wish as Michigan gagged on a late lead and lost, 72-71, to Indiana. That victory crowned the Hoosiers as Big Ten Champions and buried the Spartans.
By the time the Michigan game ended MSU turned into evil Sparty again, refusing to announce the score of the Michigan-Indiana game. And all was forgotten even if Michigan is not forgiven for its failure to win. Russell Byrd stood at the free-throw line with a big grin on his face deciding the next big thing for Spartan fans.
"We want tacos," fans shouted for the free giveaway when the team scores 70 points.
So he calmly sank two free throws to send the crowd home happy.
MSU playing for banners
Coach Tom Izzo admitted he wanted this Big Ten title. He collects them like baseball cards. They look good on the resume when recruits are looking at this program.
So what does all this mean? It means titleless Michigan State (24-7 overall, 13-5 in the Big Ten) is no better or worse than a team that came one play away from sharing the title. The Spartans are a giant in the college basketball world even though they looked flawed Sunday.
The Spartans are kind of like Tiger Woods. They only play for hardware. Second place doesn't matter.
Now there is a new focus. There are more banners to play for in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments and the Spartans are ready.
"We have something to look forward to," Izzo said. "It will be like a Final Four in the Big Ten Tournament. With the number of ranked teams (in the Big Ten) this could be bigger than any Final Four I've been in."
Once again Keith Appling becomes the guy. He's the point guard and the one that makes the product sizzle or fizzle. MSU has a run in it.
Spartans a threat
And I will tell you why MSU is a bigger threat to reach the Final Four than win a Big Ten title. The better teams in the Big Ten are onto Appling's act. They know when to be physical. They know how to push his buttons.
The rest of the country does not have the blueprint that makes Appling unravel. Even though he finished with 16 points Sunday it should be a bit disturbing that he finished with just two assists.
"Everybody goes through their ups and downs but you got to fight through it,' Appling said.
He also believes the Spartans have a run in them.
"You can't forget that we are the defending Big Ten tournament champs," he said. "We got a lot of the same guys who were on that team. It's about being focused. I'm sure we can do it again if the focus is there."
We saw early focus during another ugly game against the Wildcats. We saw why the Spartans could make another run or get run.
"We ducked no one and I am so proud of that," Izzo said. "We got a lot of things to feel good about. It's the time of year where you get measured by what you do from now on. The first measuring stick we passed. I really do feel that way. Now the one coming up we will be even more scrutinized."
That's the Spartan way. They are always under a microscope this time of year, exactly where they want to be and exactly where they deserve to be.
Now the real fun begins.
And trust me. You won't hear "Go Blue" around here for a very long time.
Michigan State junior Adreian Payne blocks Reggie Hearn’s shot in the first half. Payne finished with 11 points and four rebounds. / Dale G. Young/Detroit News
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