Ann Arbor — Derrick Walton Jr. says it’s like “any other game.”
But Michigan-Michigan State basketball is about much, much more.
“Of course it’s about bragging rights,” Walton, a Detroit-native, said Friday in advance of Sunday’s Michigan-Michigan State game at Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan is 14-7, 4-4 Big Ten and Michigan State is 12-9, 4-4. This is the first of two games between the teams in a nine-game span. The teams will play Feb. 7 at Crisler Center.
The road has not been overly kind to the Wolverines this season. They have lost five games on the road, but they have won three of their last four overall, including a 30-point win over Indiana Thursday, perhaps not coincidentally all at home.
“I love away games,” Walton said. “When someone boos you, it’s just like you want to shut them up in a sense. I’m pretty sure a lot of guys use that as motivation. There’s nothing like an away win. An away win is 10 times better than a home win in my book, just because of the hostility. Knowing you’re coming in as the underdogs, it’s just you and your team and not having the home crowd behind you makes the win much sweeter.”
The Breslin Center fans and the Izzone will surely shower Michigan with boos the entire game. That’s exactly what Walton and the Wolverines expect. And want.
“The atmosphere and the hostility of that crowd is just a different monster,” he said. “I’m excited for it, and I’m pretty sure the other guys are excited as well. There’s nothing like walking into a gym and just knowing you’re hated. You’ve got to embrace it and love it.”
Derrick Walton talks about playing in front of a hostile crowd at the Breslin Center.
Walton knows what it’s like to win at Breslin Center, since the Wolverines did it in January 2014, so he feels compelled to prepare the younger players for what’s ahead on Sunday, particularly the zealous Izzone student section. It’s not exactly his style — he’s a player who likes to lead by example and not by talk, but Walton said he has a pregame speech ready to share with his teammates.
“The Izzone is pretty intense and I’m pretty sure they’ve got some stuff for us,” Walton said. “I’m pretty sure they respect us, but of course they hate us a lot more than they respect us. That’s just a given.
“It’s just a feeling that you can’t describe. Knowing that the outcome of the game you win on the other team’s court and it’s a rivalry game, it’s nationally televised, I’m pretty sure everyone will be locked in. You can’t make that up. You can’t script that any better.”
This game is about beating Michigan State, but it’s also is about getting a road win. With the exception of big losses at South Carolina and Illinois, Michigan kept its games at UCLA, Iowa and Wisconsin fairly tight.
Walton said playing on the road means being “borderline perfect.” He said the team has learned from its struggles this season.
Michigan coach John Beilein is focused on closing out road games, something the Wolverines have been doing efficiently of late.
“I don’t think we’ve gone on the road and all of a sudden we’re out of a game in the first minutes of any of those games, with the exception of South Carolina,” Beilein said Friday. “We have to be able to really compete down the stretch, stay focused down the stretch and get lucky down the stretch.
“Once those things come together, all of a sudden then it’s ‘Oh, man, we’re a great road team.’ It’s so hard to win on the road. You need some good fortune, as well. You can’t always make your breaks, but you’ve got to try to.”
Derrick Walton talks about the leadership roles he and Zak Irvin fill on Michigan's team.
Michigan at Michigan State
Tip-off: 1 p.m. Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950
Records: Michigan 14-7, 4-4 Big Ten; Michigan State 12-9, 4-4
Outlook: Michigan State has won four straight in the series, including an 89-73 win in Ann Arbor, the only meeting last season. … The teams played three times in 2014 with Michigan winning both regular-season games before MSU won in the Big Ten tournament championship game. … Michigan enters the game leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 9.4.
Michigan coach John Beilein talks about making your own breaks in road games.