Poor performance against Wolverines frustrates Spartans

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

New York — Michigan State had everything at its fingertips on Saturday afternoon.

The top-seeded Spartans were playing in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden with a chance to advance to Sunday’s championship game for the fourth time in the last five years. A run to a title likely would have secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and sent the Spartans there riding a rush of momentum.

In addition, Michigan State was facing its rival with a shot at avenging a loss to Michigan in mid-January, which happened to be the last time the Spartans lost a game. Since then, Michigan State had won 13 straight games.

But all that evaporated in the second half Saturday as the Spartans failed to make shots, crumbled defensively and watched as Michigan took control late to grab a 75-64 victory and advance to Sunday’s championship game against Purdue, which beat Penn State in the other semifinal.

“We missed a lot of good shots,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Not enough things were going our way. And give them credit, they played well.

“We did some of the things we needed to do. We just did not do a good enough job making shots and they won fair and square and deserved to win.”

This was the game the Spartans wanted after knocking off Wisconsin in the quarterfinals on Friday. They weren’t screaming it, but getting another shot at the Wolverines was high on the list of priorities coming into the tournament.

However, from the outset, it was clear Michigan was just as fired up as the teams exchanged their share of trash talk and shoving in the early minutes. The Wolverines jumped out early but the Spartans responded and pulled ahead by three at halftime.

But in the second half, the Spartans kept missing shots. The Spartans (29-4) shot 38.1 percent (24-for-63), including just 7-for-25 from 3-point range, while the Wolverines took off, hitting 12-of-18 shots as the Michigan State defense began to wilt.

“We got a lot of open looks,” Michigan State sophomore Cassius Winston said. “We got a lot of shots we usually make. We missed a couple of those and I think we let that affect our defense in the second half.”

Winston, in particular, had a rough two games at The Garden.

He entered the Big Ten tournament playing as well as any player in the conference and was 6-for-6 from 3-point range in Michigan State’s final regular-season game. But he was just 1-for-11 over two games in New York, including 0-for-4 against the Wolverines.

“I don’t really know,” Winston said trying to explain his poor shooting. “I just got to get back and get those reps up, keep getting my rhythm back and I’m pretty sure after a week in the gym I’ll be back in the right form.”

He wasn’t over the last two days, and that was difficult for the Spartans to overcome. However, it was hardly all on Winston. Miles Bridges was 7-for-18 but was just 2-for-8 in the first half. Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. was l-for-6 from 3-point range, making his first in the final minutes when the game had been decided.

“I just couldn’t find a rhythm,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t hit anything, honestly.”

That it all came against their rival was just the salt in the wound for the Spartans.

“It definitely sucks losing to your rival,” junior Matt McQuaid said, “but at the same time we’ve got to realize we still got a lot of basketball left to play.”

Said Bridges, “We definitely wanted to play Michigan. It’s rare you get a second chance at something but we didn’t take advantage of it.”