Two times this season, they lost to Michigan. Too many times this season, they were without a full roster.
But on Sunday, they had a statement to make. After weeks of overcoming adversity, the Spartans took center stage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to show the nation who they truly are.
And they did.
Going up against No. 1-seeded the Spartans were looking to run the Wolverines off the court and prove the trophy belonged to the green and white.
After all, to be the best you have to beat the best, and they didn’t just beat them - they ran over the Wolverines in a 69-55 victory.
After the game, junior forward heard his name called as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He joins sophomore guard Gary Harris and senior forward Adreian Payne on the All-tournament team.
“We’ve been through so much,” said Dawson, who missed both of the previous Michigan games because of a broken hand. “And you know just to finish it off with a Big Ten tournament gives us a lot of confidence ... it feels great, and I was just excited to play against Michigan.”
Following the victory, MSU found out they would travel to Spokane, Wash., as a No. 4 seed to play No. 13 seed Delaware in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
With help from Adreian Payne’s 18 points and nine rebounds, the Spartans raised the Big Ten Tournament trophy for the second time in three seasons.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris and Branden Dawson scored 15 points each, but the shooting statistics don’t account for the suffocating defense MSU played the whole 40 minutes.
Coming in as one of the hottest shooting teams in the nation, the Spartans stuck to the Wolverines and held them to a mere 31.9 percent shooting clip.
They were the better team on both ends of the court, and because of that, they can now make the case as the Big Ten’s best.
Michigan came out with fire, using two 3-pointers and a converted and-1 chance by Derrick Walton Jr. to take a 9-4 lead.
MSU was having none of that. Starting with an and-1 conversion by Branden Dawson and ending with a Gary Harris fastbreak dunk, the Spartans went on a 12-0 run to take a 19-6 lead.
MSU didn’t have to wait long to see their next scoring spurt, as senior guard Keith Appling buried a floater to take a 23-14 lead with 9:16 left in the half.
Michigan head coach John Beilein thought Appling used too much forearm to get to the hoop, but he argued too much and was called for a technical foul.
Junior guard Travis Trice went to the line smoothly and buried a pair of free throws to extend MSU’s lead to 25-14. After the game, Trice admitted that seeing the wide gap in the first half let him know the Spartans were destined to win.
“I just felt like there was no way we were going to blow it, and just the way we were playing, I knew we were good,” Trice said.
Eight combined first half rebounds by Gavin Schilling and Adreian Payne gave MSU a devastating 20-11 rebounding advantage after the first half.
“That’s my role, just to rebound and run and defend,” Schilling said of his four first half offensive boards “That’s what I did tonight - I did my job.”
The Spartans walked into the locker room with a 38-29 lead, and they were looking to do something they haven’t done against Michigan this season - hold a halftime lead.
The green and white came out hungry, starting the second half on a 8-0 run.
The scoring streak was capped with a windmill dunk by Dawson after Trice grabbed the loose ball and threw it in the air for Dawson’s taking.
“At first, I just dove for it and I saw BJ and I was like ‘All right, well hopefully he catches this,’” Trice said. “That was a big play for us too, because that got the crowd into it.”
Their “in your shorts” defense held Michigan scoreless for the first three and half minutes, as Jordan Morgan scored on an easy layup to open up Michigan’s scoring.
The only scare came at the 13:05 mark when Harris left the game with a left arm injury after running into a hard-set screen. Harris was absent for eight minutes, allowing Michigan to go on a small 9-6 run.
After the game, Harris said his shoulder was nothing to worry about.
“It was just a little tweak, really,” Harris said. “Nothing crazy.”
MSU also flexed their defense on Stauskas, who was held to four points in the second half.
Harris was marking the Big Ten Player of the Year for the better half of the game, but ultimately said keeping his scoring down was a true group effort.
“Stauskas is a great player,” Harris said. “You’re not going to stop him from scoring, you just have to contain him. And I feel like we did a pretty good job of that today as a team, not individually, but as a team.”
After the game MSU was cutting down the nets, but Payne got some help from his 8-year-old friend and cancer patient Lacey Holsworth.
“It was just great, because I got to share a special moment in my life with her,” Payne said.