CHICAGO — The crowd at the United Center went silent after Michigan State guard Kyle Ahrens fell to the floor late in the first half on Sunday.
With 4:34 left in the first half, Ahrens converged with forward Kenny Goins to grab a defensive rebound after Michigan guard Jordan Poole missed a 3-pointer. Ignas Brazdeikis — U-M's Big Ten Freshman of the Year — also crashed in, bumping into Ahrens as he was coming down.
Ahrens' twisted his ankle and landed on Goins, who said he knew it wasn't good.
"It was pretty eerie, it was kind of bone-chilling," Goins said. "He actually landed on my foot, so I kind of felt the pop. It really sent just a shockwave of emotions through the team."
Ahrens had to be lifted off the floor by stretcher, but eventually returned to watch the rest top-seeded MSU's 65-60 win over No. 2 Michigan to win the Big Ten Tournament championship. He was taken immediately to get X-rays, which came back negative for a fracture in Ahrens' left ankle.
Coach Tom Izzo said Ahrens is likely done for the season as No. 2 MSU plays No. 15 Bradley (20-14) in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday to start the NCAA Tournament.
"I FaceTimed my little brother. He told me, ‘You need to go back out there ASAP. ... That’ll change the momentum of the game.’ " said Ahrens, wearing a boot as media swarmed in the locker room. "And, he was right. I owe AJ all the credit on that one."
Ahrens left with U-M up 21-20, a lead which grew to a 39-26 advantage with 17:12 to play. The redshirt junior was back to the bench with 14:10 left, Wolverines leading 41-31.
"To hear the crowd clapping and we don’t know what for, and then to see Arnie walking back," guard Aaron Henry said. "It was a relief to see."
The Spartans continued to chip away and ended the game on a 10-0 run the final 2:48 to win their third game this season against the in-state rival.
"He did whatever we asked of him, so the least we could do was win the game for him," Goins said.
Ahrens has been dealing with a chronic back injury that's limited his minutes since early January, most recently keeping Ahrens out against Nebraska March 5. Coach Tom Izzo said after MSU's win over Wisconsin on Saturday that Ahrens would be questionable to play after tweaking his back
The Spartans have also been without starting shooting guard Joshua Langford, who's been out since Dec. 29 with a stress injury in his left foot. Izzo, in his 24th season at MSU's helm, said to accomplish a regular-season conference title and the Big Ten Tournament championship, he's "never been prouder" of his team.
"I think at his expense it gave us a lift, if you want the truth," Izzo said. "He handled it so well. Josh has handled it so well, because we needed an emotional lift at halftime."
The injury is just the latest for Ahrens, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. He ended Sunday with six minutes and scored three points on a 3-pointer briefly before suffering the injury.
Ahrens played in 29 games heading into Saturday, averaging 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 19.2 minutes. But even as MSU's roster has depleted, Izzo has praised the team's maturity.
Especially for not giving up when Ahrens went down.
"I asked them all today ‘What do you want to do?’ during the pregame meal," Izzo said. " ‘Do you want to play for the tournament or do you want to play for the game.’ That sounds like a stupid question but if you knew where my guys are physically it was a good question to ask. Once they said we want to play the game, I said ‘You just gave me a license for 40 minutes of hell, so you better hang on because I’m not letting up.’ "
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