ANN ARBOR — This one looked familiar.
Nearly a month after MSU squandered a first half lead to Michigan in East Lansing, Crisler Center played a rerun of the same episode. No. 20 Michigan was handled for most of the first half, but the Wolverines rode Nik Stauskus’ 21 second half points en route to a 79-70 victory.
“They just outplayed us, simple as that,” senior guard Keith Appling said. “They made more shots, got more 50-50 balls, got more rebounds and just did everything they needed to win.”
After the Jan. 25 loss to UM, head coach Tom Izzo raved about how proud he was of his team’s effort, but Sunday afternoon didn’t hold the same story.
“The first game I was very proud of our effort, this game we looked tired, not very proud of our effort,” Izzo said. “I think I did a poor job of playing (Adreian) Payne too many minutes in a row, and he was just dead tired.”
The senior forward ended the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but the Spartans had a difficult time feeding it to him in the post the whole game.
“I thought Payne was getting beat up in there,” Izzo said. “I don’t think he really worked hard enough to get it down there, because he just looked dead to me.”
Another player that had a hard time filling the hoop was sophomore guard Gary Harris. While he led the Spartans with 21 points, it came from 7-of-17 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-13 shooting from 3-point range.
It certainly was an odd result considering the stats, Izzo said, as MSU shot 54.2 percent from the field and outrebounded the Wolverines 31-24.
Nonetheless, shooting percentage and rebounds don’t count on the scoreboard.
The game was a huge blow to the No. 13 Spartans, who now have four Big Ten losses to Michigan’s three. Since the Wolverines have rolled through MSU twice, U-M holds the tie breaker if both finish with the same record.
Michigan has four more games on their slate compared to MSU’s three.
The first portion of the afternoon could not have gone better for the Spartans, who jumped out to a 22-11 lead with 10:50 left in the half.
Michigan temporarily switched their defense to a zone, which halted all MSU scoring for the middle of the half. In return, the Wolverines pieced together a 10-0 run to bring it to a 22-21 game, giving the Wolverines new life in the game.
The half was highlighted by 11 points by sophomore guard Denzel Valentine, but he only went on to score two more points in the second half.
MSU pulled away to end the half, but a wide-open 3-pointer by Caris LeVert at the buzzer brought the game to a slight 36-34 MSU advantage. LeVert kept UM in shooting distance by scoring 14 of his 21 points in the first half.
The second half looked more like a varsity vs. JV game instead of a battle of two heavyweights.
Stauskas tied the game on Michigan’s opening possession of the second half, but he wasn’t remotely close to finishing his damage.
In the first third of the second half, Stauskas had a run of 11 straight points for UM, giving them a 54-52 lead with just more than 10 minutes left.
MSU never got the lead again. As a matter of fact, they didn’t even smell a close game, as Michigan continued on a 13-0 run to give themselves a 64-52 lead after a dunk by LeVert. When he slammed it home, the crowd erupted and the game was all but out of reach.
“They made some plays,” sophomore guard Gary Harris said when asked about UM’s run. “They hit a couple of tough shots, and we just weren’t able to recover.”
Izzo said the better team won, but a huge factor in the game was the lack of energy his fatigued Spartans brought out to the court. Appling wasn’t having any of that narrative though.
“I feel like that’s just an excuse,” Appling said. “We’re playing basketball, running up and down the court, something we’ve been doing our whole life. That’s the last thing you will ever hear coming out of my mouth.”