Bullied. Abused. Beatdown.
No mercy. No doubt — a message was sent.
It might have been the first time the MSU and U-M’s men’s basketball programs met as a pair of top-10 teams, but it certainly didn’t feel like it.
The No. 8 MSU men’s basketball team (21-4 overall, 10-2 Big Ten) rolled over No. 4 Michigan (21-4, 8-4), 75-52, making the once top-ranked Wolverines look like nothing more than a joke.
Nearly all of Breslin Center’s capacity crowd laughed in unison, with the exception of a few in maize and blue, as chants of “overrated,”rained down.
But watching the Spartans race up and down the floor for highlight-reel dunks and fast-break three’s, it was easy to be confused.
Who are these Spartans?
Wasn’t this the same team that struggled with St. Cloud State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Loyola and Tuskegee?
The same squad forced to come from behind to beat Nebraska and Penn State?
The last two times the Spartans left the Breslin Center hardwood at halftime it wasn’t to raucous cheers, but puzzled stares and anxious groans, as MSU trailed inferior opponents.
But Tuesday night, all five pieces were working together.
Adreian Payne was playing inside-out, allowing Derrick Nix to operate out of the low post, scoring and finding Gary Harris for open threes, which opened up driving lanes for Branden Dawson, while Keith Appling ran it all.
The raucous Izzone jumped and cheered for hours on end, rocking Breslin Center back to the turn of the century when the Spartans rode a 53-game home winning streak, filled with games such as this one.
It felt like the same, old fashioned, butt-whooping the Spartans have been delivering the Wolverines for most of the past two decades.
But there was one significant difference.
This one was about disrespect.
This was a team looking to prove a point to doubters that tapped U-M as a top-five team before the season despite a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to a Mid-American Conference.
They piled on the points with a purpose, forcefully sending home the message, “don’t think you’ve arrived. This still is our time.”
They beat U-M to oblivion until the rivals couldn’t take it anymore.
And once the battered Wolverines had given up, the Spartans scored again for good measure.
MSU is a very good team. They could even become a great team, but that wasn’t what they were Tuesday evening. That wasn’t what that dominance was about.
That night they were a team out for revenge, reclaiming the title of best in the state they felt never should have been taken from them in the first place.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo said it was his program’s best game in three years, and he’s probably right, but don’t expect it to become the norm.
It was simply one, loud, forceful message: this is our state, and don’t you forget it.