On Saturday, Feb. 18, a basketball game was played between two rivals and two of the best programs in the Big Ten, Michigan State and Michigan. The final score hardly mattered to most in attendance.
The matchup, which ended in 84-72 in favor of the host Wolverines, was a backdrop to a night of healing and a distraction for the entire state of Michigan, still reeling from Monday night’s shooting on MSU’s campus that left three dead and five injured.
Before the game started, Michigan did its best to offer its support to its family from an hour up the road.
Upon entry into the main arena, all fans were given a white sticker with a green heart and the Spartan head smack dab in the middle. At each seat was a wristband, able to change colors throughout the game.
Michigan’s student section, typically displaying signs of vitriol and hate for their neighbors up in East Lansing, offered signs of support for the grieving community. One sign read “Love you, brother,” with the typical “little” prefix crossed out. The “Maize Rage” also donned blue shirts that read “Michigan Basketball stands with MSU." Most students also had small, white paper signs reading “Spartan Strong.”
“It meant a lot just showing their support, as big of rivals as we are,” graduate senior forward Joey Hauser said.
As the Spartans entered the court for pre-game warmups, Crisler errupted in cheers, regardless of fandom. Each team wore special t-shirts during warmups; the Wolverines wore the same shirts as the student section, while MSU practiced in white “Spartan Strong” shirts.
Both teams were greeted with support from the crowd as they entered for the game itself. Following the typical pre-game festivities, the arena went dim. Overhead lights and the glow of thousands of wristbands painted the Crisler crowd green and white.
A moment of silence was held for the three students that lost their lives in the shooting - Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner - and the additional students still recovering in Sparrow Hospital. Izzo, never afraid to show his emotions, barely held his tears as his team and staff stood at attention.
“I’d like to thank the University of Michigan for the things they did on behalf of our university and students,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “I thought it was a very classy move on their part. I appreciate that.”
The Michigan band struck up Michigan State’s Alma Mater following the silence, Crisler Arena still washed in its rival colors. A “Spartan Strong” banner rippled in the Wolverine student section. “Unity,” read the jumbotron.
A few minutes later, a basketball game was played.
“I thought it was a nice gesture,” sophomore guard Jaden Akins said. “The whole state coming together for this game.”
Despite the events of the previous week and the clear emotion on display, Michigan State put together a gutsy, almost complete performance on both sides of the court. Led by graduate senior forward Joey Hauser’s 20 points, the excellent play was just not enough to overcome the Wolverines in the final few minutes.
Gone was the tepid defensive showdowns MSU fans have become more than accustomed to in the opening minutes. The two teams raced up and down the court to kick things off, scoring in bunches. Michigan State took a one-point lead at the 11:17 mark and did not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the half, at one point extending the lead to as much as eight points.
Offensively, the Spartans were carried by three players through the first 20 minutes: senior guard Tyson Walker, senior forward Malik Hall and Hauser. Hall’s 12 points led the team in the first half, highlighted by a pair of highlight reel dunks. Hauser notched 10 points and Walked scored eight.
The second half started off just as fast-paced. Michigan State clung desperately to its lead, answering each Wolverine basket with a drive or splash of its own.
The Wolverines repeatedly tied up the game through most of the second half, but they couldn’t quite find a way to take the lead. Each time it seemed as though U-M would surge in front, MSU would clamp down and re-extend its lead.
Finally, Michigan battled its way back in front with just over five minutes left in the game. The lead swayed back and forth in the waning minutes. Ultimately, the Wolverines hit some dagger three-pointers and outlasted the visitors to secure the victory.