Livers return bolsters Michigan in 77-68 victory over No. 16 Michigan State

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The streaks are over.

The three-game skid at home. The four-game losing stretch to the in-state rival.

Michigan put an end to them both thanks to the return of Isaiah Livers and its 3-point shooting accuracy in Saturday’s 77-68 win over No. 16 Michigan State at Crisler Center.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 77, Michigan State 68

"It feels good,” Michigan senior guard Zavier Simpson said. “Obviously we played against a great team, great coaching staff, great players. It took us a while, but we'll take it.”

Livers started and made a noticeable difference on both ends as he finished with 14 points in 31 minutes. It was the first game full game Livers played in since Dec. 14 after missing nine of the past 10 contests — including the last three games — with a lower-body injury.

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) tries to shoot between Michigan forward Brandon Johns Jr., left, and Michigan guard Eli Brooks, right, in the first half.

The bigger difference, though, was the 3-point shooting. Michigan’s recent home woes were largely tied to its long-range struggles, as it shot 25 percent (19-for-76) from deep over its last three contests at Crisler Center.

But on Saturday, the Wolverines dialed it in and shot 39.3 percent (11-for-28) from 3-point range. Simpson drained four deep balls en route to a 16-point, eight-assist outing, while Eli Brooks (11 points), David DeJulius (10 points) and Livers made two apiece.

The Spartans were outscored 33-18 from beyond the arc but managed to hang around by going 20-for-24 from the free-throw line. They shot 26.1 percent (6-for-23) from deep and a season-low 33.3 percent (21-for-63) from the field.

A large part of that had to do with Michigan (14-9, 5-7 Big Ten) finally finding a way to contain Cassius Winston. The Wolverines switched up their ball-screen coverages and their defensive assignments, sticking Brooks — instead of Simpson — on Winston for most of the game.

The move paid off as Winston was never able to get into a rhythm and finished with 20 points on 5-for-18 shooting. He scored career-high 32 points in Michigan State’s 87-69 win on Jan. 5.

"I think our team did a really good job of being ready for a really tough opponent,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I love the fact that through our disposition, we were ready from start to finish and how we got it done was with our defense."

Winston helped Michigan State (16-8, 8-5) make a second-half push after it trailed for the majority of the first half. The Spartans pulled within one four times in the first five minutes, the last coming on a 3-pointer by Winston to make it 39-38 with 15:09 to play.

Michigan stemmed the tide each time. Livers knocked down a fall-away jumper. Franz Wagner converted a three-point play. Brooks countered Michigan State's first two 3-pointers with two of his own.

The Wolverines widened the margin with a 16-6 run that featured a one-handed alley-oop slam by Jon Teske and a transition 3-pointer from DeJulius. Brandon Johns Jr. capped the spurt with an offensive rebound and putback for a 58-46 with 6:51 remaining.

The Spartans made a late charge and cut the deficit to 65-59 on a layup from Xavier Tillman with 1:56 remaining. But Michigan State never got closer than six as Michigan made 12 free throws in the final 1:54 to split the regular-season series.

Tillman finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Aaron Henry had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans, who dropped their third straight and came up short in the muscle areas.

Michigan won the battle for loose balls and battle on the boards. The Wolverines outrebounded the Spartans 46-40 and turned 14 offensive rebounds into 13 second-chance points.

"The start was poor. The middle was really good. Our end was poor,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

“We were good enough to bounce back. We get back, cut it to one, take a bad shot with the ball and then we took another bad 3…It wasn't the prettiest game, but they shot it better from the 3 and they rebounded better. That was the difference in the game.”

It was far from an offensive masterpiece in the early stages. Over the first six minutes of the game, the teams combined for six points and shot 2-for-17 from the field with eight turnovers and three blocked shots.

Michigan relied on the deep ball to get the ball rolling, with Livers, Johns and DeJulius each burying a 3-pointer for a 12-3 lead with 11:22 left in the first half.

Winston didn’t attempt first shot until the 10:16 mark as he had a hard time getting space and getting into the lane all game long. Michigan State didn’t crack double figures until the 7:49 mark on driving layup by Tillman.

Meanwhile, the 3s continued to fall for the Wolverines. Seven of Michigan's first eight made field goals came from downtown as it turned in its best 3-point shooting performance at home since Dec. 21, when it shot 40 percent against Presbyterian.

Simpson buried back-to-back 3s, Livers drained another and Michigan took a 25-15 lead with 5:06 left in the half. The slow start was nothing new for Michigan State, which fell behind by double digits in the first half for the fourth time in its last five Big Ten road games.

By halftime, the Wolverines held a 21-0 advantage beyond the arc and a 29-23 advantage on the scoreboard in a resume-boosting rivalry rematch they hope will serve as a springboard moving forward.

“We definitely wanted to come out with a sense of urgency,” Simpson said. “We took a loss to Ohio State (on Tuesday) and we've been losing lately. But it has to start somewhere. Obviously, it couldn't start nowhere better than at our home court against an opponent like Michigan State.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins