Ann Arbor, MI
The Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines expected an epic battle tonight here at Crisler Arena and they got it. The Wolverines were dressed in Maize, but played like the guys in green usually do. With grit and toughness the Wolverines nudged the Spartans 58-57.
The game came down to just over 20 seconds on the clock. With the score tied 56-56, Keith Appling was bringing the ball up the court, he lost focus and the best PG in the nation, Trey Burke for the Wolverines poked it away and went in and jammed it home. That gave the Wolverines the 58-56 lead. They never looked back. Senior captain Derrick Nix had a chance to tie the game at the line with :08 left, but made only one of the two.
“I felt like one time he may slip up and he did, he kept the ball out and I went after it,” was how Burke described the play that decided the game, the steal from Appling. “I just shot the gap.”
An obviously elated Coach Beilein said, “Today was all about grit. The big difference was the 18 turnovers they had compared to our seven.” Was that bigger than the 44-29 advantage MSU had on the boards? “That equalized it to get the win.”
The Wolverines were wounded after being embarrassed in Happy Valley on Wednesday night by Penn State. Beilein didn’t have to be asked, he brought it up. We “Just had to get a win after our Wednesday night disaster.”
So what was the Wolverine battle cry? “It was all about grit. We have been working it and preaching it. They buy in to it. All the things you have to do when you are tired.”
Beilein’s colleague Tom Izzo was not as happy after the game. He was outcoached, his assistants were outcoached and his team was outplayed. The Wolverines owned the inbounds plays, something once a staple of MSU basketball. Once is not that big of a deal, but it wasn’t the first time this year. It has happened several times.
Once again it is fair to question time out strategy and end of half situations. For sure Izzo wasn’t alone, this failure was a team failure, yet they still only lost by one and on the road at that.
Izzo said, “They deserved to win it,” and he is right. They did. You are not going to win games with 18 turnovers and especially on the road against a top five ranked team.
Adreian Payne had a double double including two big three pointers, but Izzo thought that might have been a curse for his big man. Izzo’s game plan was the feed the ball to Payne low, but he wasn’t there. “I give them credit, but don’t give them too much. We didn’t throw it in there. We just got away from our game plan. I don’t know why.”
He bemoaned that, “Couldn’t keep Payne in there (paint). Hitting those two threes was a blessing and a curse because then you start floating around.”
Another big question mark was Travis Trice. He played 13 important minutes in the first half, but only one in the second. It made no sense and when asked if possibly Trice was injured again Izzo said, “I don’t know if he was OK or not. I wasn’t ok. I didn’t like the way we handled the end of the first half…Just not the time for him.”
Obviously Trice isn’t playing to the standards Izzo wants, but neither are several key players and they aren’t sitting. With Appling struggling, not playing Trice in the second half was questionable at best.
Keith Appling continues to give effort, but even with somewhat better scoring numbers (nine tonight) he still struggled at times with mediocrity. He had a big steal, but two turnovers. Izzo was asked again after the game if he was concerned about Appling.
With Appling’s disappearance both times against Indiana and at Ohio State he has heard it before. The questions about Keith and every time saying he wasn’t worried. Would his tune change tonight? Nope. When asked if he was worried now he said, “I’m really not.”
Well now is the time for Izzo to start being worried! Izzo has a team with the sum parts ability to make a Final Four. That isn’t happening without Appling in high gear.
Star sophomore Branded Dawson only had two points. Denzel Valentine played 23 minutes and had zero points as did Matt Costello who played 14 minutes. The Spartans shot 36% from the field and the Wolverines 42%. The Wolverines love shooting the three. That is the John Beilein system, but not tonight. They were 0-12.
After the game Beilein was asked if he had ever had one of his teams not make a three in a game. After a long chuckle he said, “I do remember it, I think I remember it about 20 years ago.”
Every area of the Spartan team performed poorly tonight, and they still lost by one. There is a lot of basketball ahead of them and it is the most meaningful kind: March Madness. For now they lick their wounds as their record falls to 22-7 (11-5) and they face their final two games of the regular season this upcoming week at home. Against Wisconsin at home on Thursday and they finish with the Wildcats of Northwestern on Sunday, also at the Breslin.