EAST LANSING — With 13 seconds left in the game, Cassius Winston traveled.
Normally, it would be a quick play stoppage — a few substitutions and then an inbound. But this was no normal timeout. Rather, it was more of an extended flex.
The PA announced the seniors, wing Matt McQuaid and forward Kenny Goins. Both got down on the floor and kissed the Spartans’ logo as they pumped up the crowd.
No. 7 Michigan (26-5 overall, 15-5 Big Ten) could only sit and watch as No. 9 Michigan State (25-6, 16-4) milked every last moment of its 75-63 win on the way to a Big Ten title.
For 30 minutes, it seemed like the Wolverines could do what seemed unthinkable two weeks ago.
After losing to Michigan State at Crisler Center two weeks ago, Michigan’s Big Ten hopes were on life support. But when the Spartans lost to Indiana the next weekend and Purdue lost to Minnesota, the door was once again wide open. Win at the Breslin Center, win the Big Ten.
But when the clock ran out, it was Michigan State cutting down the nets.
“We weren’t poised when we needed to,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We needed to be poised at the time and we weren’t. We didn’t show.”
It started out well for the Wolverines. Junior guard Zavier Simpson grabbed steals on back-to-back possessions to open the game, which led to five quick points.
Michigan didn’t trail the rest of the half. But freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers each picked up two fouls, sitting on the bench for much of the period and thrusting the bench into action. All of them played well for patches, but the Breslin Center is not a conducive environment for freshmen with scarce playing time.
The Spartans closed the half on a 6-0 run that coincided with a 3:12 scoring drought for the Wolverines. The crowd rose to its feet multiple times as Michigan seemed more and more flustered. Though the Wolverines led by six at halftime, there was a sense it might not last.
After a few minutes of trading baskets with Michigan, Michigan State found a little bit of separation. With 11:39 left in the second half, Goins got the ball on a fast break and was left wide open for three, hitting it to cut the lead to two.
“(We had) a couple possessions of miscommunications,” Livers said. “ … Just getting them easy shots, easy buckets. Just, they didn’t have the pressure that we were supposed to give them.”
After taking the lead on a Winston 3-pointer, the Spartans systematically suffocated the Wolverines. Michigan missed eight consecutive shots as Michigan State hit 10 in a row, starting with Goins’ triple.
When the Wolverines finally took a timeout with 7:45 left, the Spartans were up seven and had a lead they wouldn’t relent. Winston, meanwhile, bullied Michigan into submission. He drew several fouls and got what he wanted at the rim, finishing with 23 points and seven assists.
Everything the Wolverines tried came up empty. Everything the Spartans tried found the net. Michigan’s scoring drought ballooned to 4:15 and Michigan State’s run to 20-2. Brazdeikis, who scored 20 points in just 22 minutes, fouled out with just over five minutes left.
“It started from the defensive end,” said freshman guard David DeJulius. “Because the first half, a lot of our defensive end translated to offense and we were able to get down a lot and then the second half we just couldn’t get no stops.”
The rest was a mere formality.
For 30 minutes, the title was within the Wolverines’ grasp. But for the last 10, the Spartans played like conference champions, and Michigan played like a team that had already lost.