Matt Charboneau and Bob Wojnowski of The News talk about Michigan State's loss at Michigan, its third straight. The Detroit News


Ann Arbor — Call it déjà vu. Call it a bad dream. Heck, call it a nightmare.

Call it whatever you please, but Michigan State was on the road again Saturday and, once again, it found itself in a familiar position. The shots weren’t falling, the turnovers were piling up and the home crowd was working its way into a fever pitch.

This edition of the never-ending story came at Crisler Center, and while Michigan wasn’t exactly shooting the lights out to open the game, it didn’t take long for the Wolverines to take advantage. They took a 10-point lead late in the first half, withstood the expected second-half push from the Spartans and pulled away for a 77-68 victory, ending a four-game win streak in the series for No. 16 Michigan State.

“It definitely gets frustrating,” Michigan State junior Xavier Tillman said. “We’ll try and watch the film and critique the mistakes that are correctable in this game. There were a couple of times we left guys wide open for threes and that’s something we can correct.

“But losing consistently on the road is definitely frustrating. We call ourselves the ‘Heartbreak kids’ because we’re gonna come in and upset people. We’ve got to find that swagger again and do that.”

Michigan State (16-8, 8-5 Big Ten) has now lost three in a row and is just 3-5 in its last eight games. On top of that, the Spartans fell to 2-4 on the road with a trip to Illinois coming on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the numbers were similar to recent road losses. The Spartans opened the game just 1-for-9 from the field, had given the ball up six times in the first six minutes and watched as the Wolverines dominated the glass, got every loose ball and was taking almost twice as many shots.

After a chilly start, Michigan (14-9, 5-7) started to get rolling from long range as seven of its first eight field goals were from 3-point range. Senior guard Zavier Simpson was a perfect 3-for-3 on his triples after entering the game as a 28.9 percent 3-point shooter in Big Ten games.

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“We let a couple guys get going and give Simpson credit,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He made some shots, but we had a game plan on what we wanted to do and I wouldn't change it because some of those shots were on kick-out 3s and he made some shots.

“I mean, what they did is they shot better from the 3. But maybe their worst 3-point shooter goes 4-for-7, so give him credit. He did a hell of a job.”

What’s as frustrating for the Spartans as the slow starts is the fact they’ve fought back in each road game outside of Purdue only to come up short.

The same thing happened on Saturday as Michigan State pulled to within a point nearly five minutes into the second half. But down one, Cassius Winston missed a deep 3-pointer and Xavier Tillman was off on another as the Wolverines responded with a 9-2 run.

“Last year, in money time, we made good decisions,” Izzo said. “We’re down and we jack a 3 with (Franz) Wagner right in our face. We didn't even get any ball movement and he's 6-9, so that's just making some poor decisions.

“We're working with it and working on it, but there is a lot of good basketball left. So I'll try to improve. We've been in every game but one, and yet we get close like that and cut the big leads because of our poor start and it’s almost like we go brain dead. That's got a change.”

Winston finished with 20 points for the Spartans but was just 5-for-18 shooting. Tillman scored 17 and grabbed 12 rebounds while Aaron Henry scored 11 and pulled down nine rebounds.

Those weren’t terrible numbers, but the Spartans still find themselves in the midst of a three-game skid with nothing but tough games left on the schedule.

“It’s rough just because these three games we kind of felt like we dropped,” Winston said. “It’s always tough when you lose a game instead of a team beating you. Michigan played really well tonight and made some things happen, but I feel like there were a lot of things that were in our control and we could have done better.

And that’s the good thing about it is that it was in our control. So that means there's something to fix. But we’ve got to figure out a way to get better from it.”


Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks about another slow start on the road as the Spartans lost at Michigan, their third straight defeat. The Detroit News

Michigan State will have to get better quickly. The Spartans are two games out of first place and they head to Illinois on Tuesday before hosting first-place Maryland next Saturday.

“We’ll get out of it,” Izzo said of the losing streak. “We really will. I’m not trying to convince you of anything but it's been a year like no other year, too. So I've been through a lot of things in my 25, 36 years, but we’ve been through some things that I'm figuring out how to deal with and so we'll just continue to work on how to deal with those things.

“But again, nobody's quit and we keep coming back. We’ll keep doing our things.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau