Michigan State vs. Oakland series takes root in Detroit

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit – There was a time when it looked like the Michigan State-Oakland series was in jeopardy before the schools came to agreement on a new six-year contract this summer that assured the teams would continue their mini-rivalry.

Nonconference scheduling can be difficult for Michigan State considering its commitments to events like the Champions Classic and the Gavitt Games, as well as the almost yearly involvement in a high-profile tournament around the Thanksgiving holiday.

But for anyone who wondered what the Oakland series brings was quickly reminded on Saturday as No. 16 Michigan State beat Oakland, 72-49, in front of 18,145 at Little Caesars Arena. The win improved Michigan State to 18-0 against Oakland while it was the second time the teams have played in Detroit after playing four times at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Oakland's Brad Brechting puts up a shot over Michigan State's Xavier Tillman in the first half.

All 18 of those games have had Tom Izzo coaching Michigan State and Greg Kampe leading Oakland as the two have formed a close friendship over the years.

“It’s easy to say I love this game when you beat a team 18 straight times,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But there's nothing I love about it especially when he's a friend. But what I did love about it is it's so good to come down here. Our crowd was so good and it was good to see however many people were here. It was a lot. It's great to have Spartans here that don't get to see us play, so I'm appreciative of the arena and what they've done, of Greg and what he's done and just to keep this thing going a little bit because it's great to be down in Detroit.

“It was fun for the guys last night, just awesome what the city is starting to turn into and places like this are a big reason.”

Michigan State arrived in town on Friday and practiced at the Pistons’ facility where the Spartans were treated to what life is like in the NBA.

The game and the big crowd on Saturday was icing on the cake and it’s one Izzo doesn’t want to see go away, regardless of the schedule the Spartans play.

“This is a privilege to play down here,” Izzo said. “We went down and the Pistons were nice enough to let us practice at their facility and it's just been a really good relationship.”

The players loved the experience, too.

“I’ve never played in the Detroit before and it was an amazing experience,” sophomore Aaron Henry said. “Little Caesars Arena is nice and I'm glad I got the opportunity. I'm looking forward to playing here some more.”

Son shines

It was a big day for walk-on Steven Izzo, who got in with the rest of the reserves late in the game as Michigan State had things in control.

The son of the Spartans coach had the crowd on its feet by grabbing three rebounds and nearly brought the house down as his wide-open 3-pointer bounced in and out.

“We love each other and it was a lot of fun to see him have an opportunity to go out there and get rebounds to get a shot up,” senior Cassius Winston said. “It’s great to see. He comes in and he works every day for the same amount of time everyone else does. It was good for him to have a chance to go out there and have some fun, too.”

Slam dunks

The game was the 21st all-time college basketball game at Little Caesars Arena and the fourth appearance for Michigan State, and the fifth for Oakland.

… Michigan State took 33 3-point attempts, a season-high for the Spartans and tied for the second-most ever at Little Caesars Arena.

… MSU held Oakland to just 26.2 percent shooting (17-for-65), a season-low for its opponents.

… The 54 rebounds Michigan State grabbed was its most this season and are the most by a team in a college basketball game at Little Caesars Arena.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau