‘Battle-tested’ MSU clamps down on Michigan
East Lansing – There was a different feel in the Breslin Center on Sunday afternoon. It was a familiar one, to be sure, but with Michigan in town to continue its rivalry with Michigan State, the electricity was high.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said it was “thick in the air” before the first tip.
The Wolverines entered the game having won two straight, including three of their last four. The Spartans, on the other hand, had lost three straight with only one win in their last five.
Needless to say, Michigan State had desperation on its side and it showed in a defensive performance that ignited the Spartans to a 70-62 victory, snapping the three-game skid and giving them their fifth straight win over the Wolverines.
“What a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Really it was a great basketball game. Loved the way our kids competed, Michigan State as well. They really worked their tail off and it’s always a challenge, wherever you play them, to score, and we really couldn’t get good looks. They just shut down a lot of things we do. A great defensive plan and it worked really well.”
Michigan State (13-9, 5-4 Big Ten) held Michigan to 33.9 percent shooting, including 26.9 from 3-point range. It also held the Wolverines without a field goal for the final 6:05 as their final 12 points came at the free-throw line.
It was a marked improvement from the loss two games ago at Indiana and a defeat at the hands of Purdue on Tuesday.
“It’s not an easy cover when you got five guys that can shoot it,” Izzo said. “The last two games we play with two posts as big as behemoths and then we go against two bigs that stay out at the 3-point line half the time, so that’s a difficult transition, especially for young guys to make.
“I thought we were good defensively, I didn’t think we were great. They had some looks and they missed some shots.”
It was enough of a defensive effort on a night Michigan State wasn’t as effective offensively. Miles Bridges scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Spartans while Cassius Winston scored 16 and Nick Ward added 13.
It took time for Bridges to get rolling, coming off a career game Tuesday, but late in the game it was his number that was called in crunch time.
“That just shows how much trust Coach Izzo has in me,” Bridges said. “I was struggling at the beginning but in the end he knew I’d make a few baskets and get us to a win, so that shows how much trust he has in me.”
Senior Derrick Walton Jr. did his best to keep Michigan (14-8, 4-5) in the game, scoring 24, including nine of the last 12 points.
“He is a four-year player,” Izzo said, “and today he played like one.”
However, Walton didn’t get much help. Moritz Wagner had 10 points but leading scorer Zak Irvin was held without a point, the first time he didn’t score since his season-opener as a junior a year ago. He entered the game averaging 14.4 points a game but was slowed by missing the last two days of practice with the flu.
“It’s not an excuse; he’s not making it an excuse,” Beilein said. “He told me at halftime, ‘Coach, I’m fine.’ We tried to save him and hope he could do all right but he was not himself.”
The teams traded 9-0 runs in the first half as Michigan State went ahead early, only to watch Michigan close the gap. The Spartans led at the break, 32-28, after Bridges closed the half with a running shot in the lane.
The Spartans started to take control in the second half after a 7-0 run put them ahead 46-40 with 13:14 to play after a Ward layup. The Spartans extended the lead to 51-42 on another Ward layup before a triple from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ended a 12-2 run and trimmed Michigan State’s lead to 51-45 with 10:24 to play.
Michigan State responded with six straight to take its biggest lead at 57-45 before a Duncan Robinson triple quieted the crowd with 7:45 to play, followed by a layup from Wagner to trim the margin to 57-50. Michigan cut the gap to six with a little more than four minutes to play before a Ward hook in the lane put the Spartans up 61-53 with 3:47 left. That got trimmed to 61-56 with three free throws from Walton, but Bridges then scored four straight and Winston put the game away at the line.
“We took a lot of bumps and bruises this year but we’ve come back together,” Winston said. “Hopefully this last stretch of games is the end of the bumps. We’ve learned from them and we’re battle-tested and now we’re ready.
“We’re in a situation where every game is a must-win game and that added to it, but this game is always an important game.”