ANN ARBOR — In what started as an offensive catastrophe, with MSU and Michigan combining for a total of six points in the first six minutes of the match-up, the Wolverines found the answer from the three-point line, and took the second rivalry meeting of the season, 77-68.
“Nobody quit on it, it wasn’t the prettiest game," head coach Tom Izzo said of his team playing yet another game of catch-up on the road. "They (Michigan) shot better from the three and rebounded better and that was the difference in the game.”
The struggle started for MSU on the boards, with Michigan (14-9 overall, 5-7 Big Ten) holding the 46-40 advantage. With 14 of those on the offensive side, the Wolverines secured 13 second chance points and 14 points off rebounds.
However, the deciding factor was ultimately three-point buckets, which were a rare sighting for MSU Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor. Michigan sunk 11, while MSU shot a horrendous 6-for-23, none of which went down in the first half.
The Spartans entered halftime with 23 points, their second lowest first half performance of the season behind their 20 points at Purdue on Jan. 12. The Spartans didn’t put a score on the board until junior forward Xavier Tillman split a pair at the line with 17:30 remaining, the latest first points for MSU since they faced Oakland on Dec. 14, 2019.
Ironically, sophomore forward Aaron Henry, who Izzo recognized as one of the only bright spots of the game, said the team discussed starting off on a stronger note before the game but still couldn't make the expectation a reality.
“One of the comments made before the game was we’ve been fighting back though things," Henry said. "(We said) 'let’s get on a good start, let’s get out on the right foot and not try to fight back.'”
The Wolverines started similarly, but broke free after accumulating all of their first 12 points from threes, aiding them to a six point edge entering the half and setting the rhythm for their electric day from the three.
In the second half, things changed. The Spartans started off going 7-for-7 for the line and sophomore forward Aaron Henry finally shot down a three that put the Spartans within one, 36-35.
Henry would put up 11 points, shooting a perfect 4-for-4 from the line and 3-for-8 overall.
After committing seven turnovers in the first half, the Spartans had zero in the zecond, helping them contain Michigan’s lead to no more than 10 for most of the half. However, Michigan State's 33.3 percent overall shooting performance proved not enough to ever find the lead.
“Any given night in the Big Ten anyone can get beat so you have to come ready to play with energy and poise and passion," Senior forward Kyle Ahrens said. "When you get down in such a hole it's really hard to come back. The beginning is really important for us to focus on in practice and we’ll emphasize that a lot.”
After shooting a career high in the two teams' last meeting, senior guard Cassius Winston led his team with 20 points, sinking half of his team's threes. Tillman would also put up numbers in the double digits, scoring 17 and snatching 12 rebounds.
Michigan was in need of a healthy junior forward Isaiah Livers, which they got. Livers leads the Wolverines in points per game and held the best 3-point percentage in the Big Ten before going down with an injury. The Kalamazoo native made a notable comeback, going 5-for-10 overall and putting up 14 points for his team.
The Spartans have now dropped three straight games as they look ahead to face Illinois in Champaign on Tuesday.
“There’s so many good teams that you don’t get to play average," Izzo said of the Big Ten this season. "Sometimes you’re going to make shots and sometimes you’re going to miss shots, but you don’t get to play average."