Spartans lose to U-M again after Wolverines rally in the second half
ANN ARBOR — This one looked familiar. Nearly a month after MSU squandered a first-half lead to Michigan in East Lansing, Crisler Center played host to 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 U-M, head coach Tom Izzo raved about how proud he was of his team’s effort, but Sunday afternoon didn’t hold the same story.
“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 out-rebounded the Wolverines 31-24.
Nonetheless, shooting percentage and rebounds don’t count on the scoreboard.
The game was a huge blow to the conference championship dreams of the No. 13 Spartans’, who now have four losses in the Big Ten to U-M’s three.
Because the Wolverines have rolled through MSU twice, U-M will hold the tie breaker if both teams finish with the same record.
U-M 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.
U-M temporarily switched its 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 matchup.
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 20 minutes.
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 U-M in shooting distance by scoring 14 of his 23 points in the first half.
The second half looked more like a varsity versus JV game instead of a battle of two heavyweights.
Stauskas tied the game on U-M’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, Stauskus had a run of 11 straight points for U-M, giving it a 54-52 lead with just a bit more than 10 minutes left.
MSU never got the lead again.
As a matter of fact, it didn’t even smell a close game, as U-M continued on a 13-0 run to give the Wolverines 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 U-M’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,” said Appling, who along with Payne has never defeated U-M in Ann Arbor. “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.”