The storybook ending almost didn't happen.
The win on Senior Night against the arch rival for a share of the conference title. The "proper" senior sendoff, and all of the aforementioned, was far from in sight when Michigan State trailed Michigan by 12 late in the first half.
Then? As Wolverines coach John Beilein put it, "we imploded."
Everything came together for the ninth-ranked Spartans (25-6, 16-4 Big Ten) on Saturday night after a surging 26-5 run in the second half to earn the team's second straight Big Ten regular season Championship after beating No. 7 U-M, 75-63 at the sold-out Breslin Center.
The win completes the regular season sweep over U-M (26-5, 15-5), after winning in Ann Arbor on Feb. 24, 77-70.
"That kind of fills all the boxes," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "I think it'll go down as one of the more special ones just because of the fact that it was the last game for a championship against your rival on senior night."
With the win, MSU shares the conference title with No. 11 Purdue but earns the top spot in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. The Spartans will play the winner of the No. 8 vs. the No. 9. Michigan, which entered Saturday tied with MSU and the Boilermakers for first place, falls to No. 3 and will play either the No. 6, No. 11 or No. 14 team — all of which are to be determined.
Point guard Cassius Winston scored a game-high 23 points, 16 of which came in the second half. Senior Kenny Goins played 39 minutes in his final game at the Breslin, posting nine points and 16 boards. Fellow senior Matt McQuaid scored 10 points, including a clutch 3-pointer in the midst of the big run.
"There are so many good feelings tonight," McQuaid said. "Senior night, beating your rival, and a Big Ten Championship. It doesn't get any better than this… well, it probably does, but this is all I have experienced."
Ignas Brazdeikis carried the Wolverines with a team-high 20 points but fouled out at 5:10 mark, at the end of MSU's big run.
Brazdeikis scored 10 of U-M's first 17 points, going 4-for-4 from the floor with two 3-pointers to give the Wolverines a 17-7 lead in the first 6:29 of play. The Spartans answered with a 5-0 burst to make it a 17-12 game with 12:01 left in the half, but U-M would continue with hot shooting to rebuild its lead.
The Wolverines led by as much as 12 after a fadeaway jumper from Zavier Simpson capped a 6-0 run to give U-M a 35-23 lead with 3:12 left in the half. The hot-shooting Wolverines, however, were held and 0-for-6 from the floor and went scoreless the remainder of the half. The shooting spell allowed MSU a 6-0 run for itself to enter halftime trailing 35-29.
The run was accomplished entirely without Winston, who was held out the final 7:34 after he picked up his second foul.
"I just had trust in my teammates they would hold it down," Winston said. "They were going to make plays, get stops and things like that."
Michigan was shooting 57.7 from the floor but ended the half connecting on 15-of-30 field goals, five of which were 3s. The Spartans entered the break shooting 2-of-10 from deep and 9-for-22 from the field.
After both teams combined to start the second half 1-of-9 from the field, MSU made five of its next six shots — which included 3s from McQuaid, Goins and Winston — to start the 26-5 momentum-changing run to take a 66-53 lead with 7:45 to play.
"Once we tied it, you kind of feel the momentum swing," Winston said. "Once you tied it, you start putting together three, four stops in a row and that’s when you kind of realize that OK we got the game in our hands and we’ve got to take advantage of it."
Part of MSU's comeback was in part of the 23-for-30 clip from the free-throw line, compared to 5-of-7 from the line for U-M. The Spartans also had nine first-half turnovers, but ended the game with 13.
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"I think we imploded a little bit on a couple occasions where they just blocked a couple shots during that time and that was huge," Beilein said. "And then we missed some shots, we even had a couple air balls and that's real tough for us. Now they're out, and they didn't miss at their end."
McQuaid put the game away on a high note with a two-handed dunk in transition with 1:13 left. It gave MSU a 73-61 lead and marked the final senior field goal before he and Goins kissed the Spartan head at mid-court, a tradition for departing seniors.
McQuaid, Goins and other seniors from the front office staff were honored postgame, followed by the ceremonial banner-raising into the rafters.
With MSU earning a double-bye in the Big Ten Tourney, the Spartans are off until Friday (12:30 p.m. EST tip-off).
For the first time, perhaps all season, Izzo said he'll take a bit longer to bask in the win.
"I promised myself I'm going to do a George Perles and I'm going to enjoy this for awhile, 24 hours," Izzo joked, honoring the former longtime MSU football coach. "(The team) bet me that I'd watch the film tonight at two and my team is losing that, bad. I'm not going to do it.
"I'm going to enjoy it for 24 hours."
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