It was supposed to be close.
Identical conference records.
Overall records separated by just a game.
One of the mainstays of the Big Ten’s elite against a program on the rise, with a new head coach and coming off its first NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years.
But when Kiana Johnson stood with the ball in her hands, arms crossed as the final seconds ticked off the clock, an authoritative message of dominance was sent.
“Get off my court,” Johnson said was the thought on her mind as she stood near midcourt.
To quote a line from the HBO series “The Wire:” “If you come at the king, you’d best not miss.”
Yet the Wolverines missed again. And again. And again. And again.
U-M made just 17-of-53 shots (32.1 percent) and by the time it was finished, the MSU women’s basketball team had done what they had done the previous 11 times the Spartans tangled with the Wolverines: They won.
MSU (18-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) extended its win streak over its rival to 12 games, knocking off Michigan (16-6 overall, 5-4 Big Ten) 61-46, making sure it remained more than a decade since the Wolverines had won in East Lansing.
“As soon as the game came my freshman year, I was like ‘Oh man, I hate this team immediately,”
“It was just like ugh, everything about them. Their colors, just get away from me. I hate the big blue ‘M,’ all that. It’s just annoying. Over there, I feel like they’re just arrogant, and I don’t like it.”
And although U-M already had left the court, waiting along the scorers table to shake hands before the final buzzer sounded, it wasn’t the first time the Wolverines were noticeably absent.
The first time was at the beginning of the second half, when the Spartans used an 11-0 run to take a 38-22 lead that all but sealed the game, with the lead swelling to as much as 21 points and never shrinking to fewer than 12.
It’s what led Michigan’s senior forward Nya Jordan to say her team “lost its will.”
By the time it was done, six players had scored eight or more points for MSU, illustrating for the Wolverines’ first-year coach Kim Barnes Arico just where her program hopes to be.
“It is definitely important to us and a place we are striving to be,” Barnes Arico said.
“They are an excellent program right now and that’s where we want to be.”
If it wasn’t senior guard Jasmine Thomas draining a 3-pointer, it was Johnson pulling up to knock down a mid-range jumper.
When it wasn’t junior guard Klarissa Bell driving for a layup, it was Becca Mills scoring in the post.
Again and again each shot fell, one after another, from one player or another, keeping order restored in the Great Lakes state.
“However else they do outside of playing against us, I really don’t care, honestly,” Bell said. “But when they play against us, we’re not going to let them win, and that’s just how it is.”