Spartans shake off rough first half to beat Wolverines convincingly
East Lansing — Tom Izzo shook his head and had a little smirk.
“If those locker room walls could talk,” he said.
The stories over the years of paint-peeling outbursts from the Michigan State coach and plenty of players along the way, as well, are as big a part of the Spartans’ program as any of the championships won during Izzo’s 27 seasons at the helm.
And on Saturday afternoon, another doozy was in store as No. 10 Michigan State gave the ball up nine times and allowed another nine offensive rebounds in the first half yet still managed to lead rival Michigan by four points.
But aside from some hollering from longtime assistant Mike Garland, it was a more measured break. The Spartans talked over some defensive coverages then declared what would happen in the second half.
“We vowed that we're going to play all 20 minutes,” Izzo said, “and I thought we did.”
The result was a Michigan State performance that was good as in any half this season as the Spartans hit nine 3-pointers on their way to an 83-67 victory over the Wolverines at Breslin Center.
Freshman Max Christie scored 16 to lead Michigan State, going 3-for-4 from 3-point range, while Malik Hall had 15 points with a pair of 3-pointers and Joey Hauser added 14 with two 3-pointers as well. Hoggard finished with 11 points and a career-high 10 assists and turned the ball over once.
"This isn't any ordinary game," Christie said as Michigan State beat Michigan for the sixth time in the last eight meetings. "We needed this win in the Big Ten schedule. Anytime you go against Michigan, it's always a big game, no matter the circumstances."
The Spartans (16-4, 7-2 Big Ten) went 9-for-18 from 3-point range, just days after struggling to make much of anything in a loss to Illinois. But with the playmaking of Hoggard, things changed significantly as Michigan State overcome some early rebounding and turnover issues to pull away in the second half.
“The second half definitely was a lot different than the first,” Hall said. “Coach came into the locker room fired up and the rest of the team, we just responded to that. We played hard and it's something that we have to work on just from the start of the game, coming out and punching people right in the mouth. It’s something that we're continuing to work on and something that we talked about as a team.”
Michigan (10-8, 4-4) was on a three-game winning streak and had been shooting the ball well from 3-point range but went just 3-for-19 for the game. Hunter Dickinson did his best to keep the Wolverines in the game, scoring a game-high 25, but he got little help as Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan each added 11 points for the Wolverines.
Marcus Bingham Jr., who had four blocks to move into third place all-time at Michigan State, spent the most time on Dickinson, though his foul trouble made it more of a team effort in the second half.
“There was definitely still more I could have done,” Bingham said, “but we came out with the win and I think the second half I picked it up a lot, Julius (Marble) helped and even Mady (Sissoko) came in and got a couple minutes. But I'm mostly happy about the win tonight.”
Michigan came out firing early in the game, using an 8-0 run in the opening minutes to turn an 8-6 deficit into a 14-8 lead just more than five minutes into the game.
That’s when Christie started heating up, hitting his first 3-pointer to pull Michigan State within 14-11. Michigan kept hammering away to Dickinson in the post, but a jumper from Christie followed by another 3-pointer and a free throw for a four-point play tied the score at 18.
Dickinson answered with four in a row for the Wolverines but another Christie 3-pointer followed by a three-point play from Hall gave Michigan State a 24-22 lead with just more than seven minutes to play in the first half.
The back and forth continued from there before Hall scored eight in a row, hitting two 3-pointers and driving for a layup to give the Spartans a 36-32 lead with 2:56 to play. Michigan State missed an opportunity to extend that lead as it turned the ball over twice in the next three possessions before Adams converted a three-point play for the Wolverines to pull within 36-35.
Tyson Walker then nailed a 3-ponter with 25 seconds to play in the half to give Michigan State a 39-35 advantage headed to the locker room despite the Spartans making nine turnovers and allowing Michigan to grab nine offensive rebounds. Michigan, meanwhile, was just 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes.
Michigan State came out of the locker room on fire as a 10-2 surge put the Spartans ahead, 49-37, thanks to a pair of drives from Hoggard before Gabe Brown scored his first points on a dunk that had the crowd at a fever pitch and the Spartans ahead, 53-38, with 13 minutes to play.
“Give Michigan State credit,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “In the second half it wasn’t anything schematically and not taking away from coach or the coaching staff, but what they did was unique and special, and give them credit for it. They came out as the most aggressive team, the most physical team
“In the first half we were punching, fighting, clawing and scratching. In the second half we backed off and you can’t have that.”
Michigan State’s lead grew to 60-44 when Hauser hit a 3-pointer, Brown scored on a drive to the hoop and then Hauser took a dish from Hoggard on the break for a layup with 9:06 left.
“I think just defensively we weren’t locked in all the way,” Dickinson said of Michigan’s second-half drop-off. “That’s a theme for us in the second half. We usually don’t play a full 20 minutes. We just have some mental lapses that open the game up for the other team and today was another example of that.”
Michigan didn’t go away, however, and chipped away, pulling within 64-53 with 6:33 to play, but Michigan State went on an 8-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers from Brown and Hauser as the lead ballooned to 72-53 with less than five minutes to go, and Michigan State cruised from that point.
“I love this place and I love our students,” Izzo said. “I love when the place is electric like that. I think today was a good win for Michigan State, and Michigan State means the world to me.”