At times it was ear-splitting at Breslin Center, as the MSU faithful saw their No. 3 Spartans control the better part of the game against the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines.
However, the raucous crowd noise turned into a deafening silence when the final horn sounded as UM climbed back from a six-point deficit in the second half to best MSU, 80-75.
Coming into the game one of the biggest challenges was to shut down sharp-shooting Michigan forward Nik Stauskas, but the Spartans ultimately failed as he shot 5-of-6 from 3-point range en route to scoring 19 points.
He delivered the first of many blows down the stretch when he buried his fifth long ball of the game to give UM a 63-60 lead – the final lead change in a second half that saw three of them in the final eight minutes.
“I’ve got to give Michigan credit,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “They made some big threes, especially very early.”
The Spartans had a late surge at the end of the game, cutting the lead down to 78-75 with ten seconds left, but MSU never scored the rest of the contest.
Despite the loss to an in-state rival and allowing them to become the last undefeated team in the conference, Izzo raved about how highly he thinks of his players after Saturday’s performance.
“In the 30 years I’ve been here, I’ve never been more proud of a team,” Izzo said. “I’ve played guys I haven’t played in a month.”
Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. threw the dagger into the heart of the green and white crowd when he drew a charge from a flying Travis Trice.
Walton’s layup rolled in and he finished the duty by knocking down his free throw to give UM a 66-60 lead with 2:29 left on the clock.
Walton’s 13 second-half points helped him finish the game with 19 points to tie him with Stauskus for the team’s highest.
“That’s one of the reasons Derrick embraces going to Michigan, the tremendous games he will be able to play in the Big Ten,” UM head coach John Beilein said. “He hasn’t always knocked them down at the end … but tonight all the guys down the stretch, that was big for us to finish that way.”
The Spartans never found their groove and kept sending UM to the free throw line, where they went 23-of-27 in the second half. In the first half MSU only allowed three free throw attempts.
Another flip of the script came on the boards, where UM dominated MSU in the second half by out-rebounding the Spartans, 21-12. Michigan guard Caris LeVert led the Wolverines with eight rebounds, as Costello led the game with nine, filling the hole left by MSU’s two leading rebounders Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.
“The sudden change of not having Dawson is really tough on a team,” Beilein said. “They did a great job, they got a lot of good offensive rebounds in the first half and then to start the second half. But we got a bunch below the rim, we got a bunch that were rolling around, and those are the ones that can kill you as well.”
On MSU’s end, it was sophomore guard Gary Harris that led the game in scoring with 27 points.
Senior guard Keith Appling also gave his best effort with a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists, and Izzo commended him after the game for how he “sucked it up.” Costello also saw the tireless effort put on display by the senior guard.
“Coach is proud of us, but we’re all bumming especially for Keith – he put his heart and soul out there and we just didn’t finish it out,” Costello said, also agreeing that Appling is the biggest leader of this team.
“He leads more by example than with his voice.”
In the first half, the Spartans used 52 percent shooting and a 12-1 run in the heart of the half to erase an early 10-2 start by U-M.
The Spartans, backed by the euphoric home crowd, kept their foot on the gas the remainder of the half and took a 36-30 lead into the locker room.
The Wolverines never relented in the second half, kicking it off with a 4-0 run to bring MSU’s lead to two points nearly within 90 seconds . Once again, Harris killed the momentum built by the Wolverines and nailed a 3-pointer to give MSU a 39-34 cushion.
But the “Harris and Stauskas Show” continued when Stauskas immediately answered it with a long ball of his own to bring it back to a two-point game.
MSU took an eight point lead with 13:29 left in the game, but for the most part the teams traded baskets until UM made their run
Ten different players for MSU scored, including freshman forward Gavin Schilling’s first Big Ten points and a career-high 12 points by freshman forward Alvin Ellis III.
“I just knew we needed some more scoring around somewhere today, we had two people out and we needed someone to step up,” Ellis said. “(Appling) was a little banged up and hurt a little bit, so I knew he wasn’t going to be out there 100 percent.”