Sophomore point guard talks about his team's performance following Saturday's 75-64 win in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. James Hawkins
New York — It was a highly anticipated rematch both sides wanted.
For Michigan State, it was about revenge. For Michigan, it was about validating its belief it’s the best team in the state.
When the dust settled from the chippy and physical grudge match in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, the fifth-seeded Wolverines emerged with a 75-64 win over top-seeded Michigan State in front of a full house of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden.
Moritz Wagner took over in the second half, scoring 14 of his 15 points to power Michigan (27-7), which advances to Sunday’s championship game and will look to defend its title against Purdue at 4:30 p.m.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkam scored 15, including a dagger 3-pointer with 2:48 left, and Zavier Simpson also finished with 15 points. Duncan Robinson added 13 points and Charles Matthews 12 for the Wolverines, who evened their Big Ten tournament record to 1-1 against the Spartans.
Miles Bridges scored 17, Jaren Jackson Jr. 13 and Cassius Winston 11 for Michigan State (29-4), which had its 13-game winning streak stopped. The last time the Spartans lost was Jan. 13 at home against Michigan.
“We talk about being champions every day,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Bo Schembechler talked about being champions every day and there's a lot to that. There's a lot of things you can be a champion in. But this one of the special things that you can get to Madison Square Garden, play in front of that crowd, that great atmosphere and win a championship.
“To do that, we had to beat a really good team. We had to play really well against a really good team. We did and now it's on to the next game. … Let's try and win it.”
Michigan coach talks about his team's performance and toughness following its 75-64 win Saturday in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. James Hawkins
After Wagner went 0-for-7 from the field in the first half, Beilein opted to go right to him to start the second half and it paid off as the Wolverines roared out with a 10-2 run.
Wagner keyed the charge with six straight points on three baskets at the rim to put Michigan ahead, 36-31, with 15:42 to go and leave Michigan State chasing the rest of the game.
“I said at halftime, 'Moe, you're stinking the place up. Can you make a shot in the second half?'” Beilein said. “That's what I said to him. He smiled and said, 'Yes, Coach I will.'”
Shortly after Michigan State got a 3-pointer from Matt McQuaid to pull within two, Wagner delivered again with a 3-pointer before Michigan scored four straight to push the lead to 54-47 with 7:10 to play on layups from Abdur-Rahkman and Simpson.
Michigan maintained at least a five-point lead until Abdur-Rahkman got the shooter’s bounce on a backbreaking 3-pointer late in the shot clock to give the Wolverines a 62-54 advantage with 2:48 to go.
“Actually, I didn’t even know the shot clock was running down,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “The play kind of broke down and I knew I had to shoot it. It felt good coming off my hands and felt like it was a swish, but it hit the back of the rim and rolled in so I was excited.
“We knew they were going to keep battling no matter what. They were going to keep coming at us and we had keep coming at them. We can't get back on our heels and at that moment it felt like the game was finally over.”
The Wolverines sealed the win at the free-throw line with Simpson, Wagner, Matthews and Robinson combining to go 11-for-14 over the final 2:32.
Michigan, which missed 18 of its final 22 shots in the first half, shot 66.7 percent (12-for-18) from the field and 71.4 percent (5-for-7) from 3-point range in the second half, while Michigan State shot 40.6 percent (13-for-32) and misfired on its fair share of clean looks.
Joshua Langford, Jaren Jackson, Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges after loss to Michigan. Matt Charboneau
“The second half we couldn't make any shots, and I think it affected our defense,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We missed a lot of good shots. And we had it down, I think it was four or five, and Rahkman crotched in that 35-footer. That was tough.
“Not enough things were going our way. … We just did not do a good enough job making shots and they won fair and square and deserved to win.”
The atmosphere was electric from the outset as Michigan jumped on Michigan State early, using an 8-0 run in the first few minutes to take a 13-4 lead. The teams twice had to be separated as emotions were running high.
Michigan State’s Nick Ward drew a technical in the midst of one verbal spat, but that moment also served as a spark for the Spartans. They responded with a 10-0 run to take their first lead at 16-14 on a lob from Winston to Gavin Schilling with 11:45 left in the first half.
It was back and forth from there as each team struggled to build much momentum. Michigan pulled ahead, 25-22, on a drive and layup from Abdur-Rahkman, but Michigan State answered with a putback from Jackson, a 3-pointer from Bridges and a dunk from Xavier Tillman in transition to take a 29-26 advantage into the break.
But the lead was short-lived as the Wolverines quickly assumed control in the second half and never looked back en route to a sweep of their rival.
Now, Michigan will have a chance to join Michigan State (1999-2000) and Ohio State (2010-11) as the only teams to repeat as Big Ten tournament champions.
“It feels great, but it doesn't mean a lot if we don't win it,” Simpson said. “I'm proud of my teammates. I'm ready to continue. Hopefully we can fulfill our dreams that we've been working so hard for.”
Michigan vs. Purdue
Tip-off: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950
Records: Michigan 27-7; Purdue 28-5
Outlook: The Wolverines, seeded No. 5 for the Big Ten tournament, and the Boilermakers, seeded No. 3, meet for the third time this season. Purdue won 70-69 on Jan. 9 in Ann Arbor and 92-88 on Jan. 25 in West Lafayette. Both meetings went down to the wire.