It started as a trickle.
A handful of fans got up from their seats and headed towards the exits. Cassius Winston drained two free throws to push the Spartans’ lead to nine. That trickle became a steady stream. Then a river.
Jordan Poole tried to prevent it from growing further, hitting a pair of deep 3-pointers in the final minute. But it wasn’t enough to stem the tide of maize flowing out of Crisler Center.
And that was that.
Michigan State 77, Michigan 70.
“Michigan State just had a tremendous game plan, and they played better than us,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “ … They made us play poorly, and give them all the credit in the world.”
Beilein’s postgame presser continued in the same vein for 13 minutes. It was the personification of a gut-punch — a party brought to a quiet, deflating end.
Early Sunday morning, the line to secure seating in the Maize Rage started forming about the same time most students were falling asleep. Saturday, the seats that made up the Michigan student section had been draped with the same t-shirts that rested on all of Crisler Center’s 12,707 seats, ensuring a “Maize Out” for Sunday.
It wasn’t just any Maize Out. The shirts, which read “Shock The World, Boys, Go Blue!”, were a reference to Michigan’s 1989 team, which reunited to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Wolverines’ only national championship. Glen Rice, Sean Higgins, Steve Fisher and others shared memories, cracked jokes and were honored during halftime, soaking in the program’s finest achievement.
The party was about them, but other guests were invited. The 1964 Wolverines, which made Michigan’s first-ever Final Four, were honored in the first half. Later, the 1974 Wolverines — winners of the Big Ten— were honored as well.
Last, but most importantly, the current Wolverines had a game.
Not just any game, mind you. Michigan vs. Michigan State. No. 7 vs. No. 10. Two teams that don’t like each other one bit, separated by 65 miles but tied atop the Big Ten. For one afternoon, every star in the college basketball universe had somehow come into alignment.
It lived up to the hype.
The Spartans were without forward Nick Ward and guard Joshua Langford. The Wolverines had a less-than-100 percent Charles Matthews, who tweaked his ankle in the first half. No matter. The opening 20 minutes was left-hook after left-hook, the decibels rising with every possession.
One dizzying sequence saw 15 points in 109 seconds. Six baskets and three 3-pointers, each hit by a different player.
Michigan and Michigan State both feasted off the building’s energy. For Wolverine freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, this took the form of rocking Xavier Tillman to sleep and nailing a 3-pointer in his face, or beating Kenny Goins down the baseline and exploding for a dunk, pumping up the crowd every chance he got. For Spartans Goins and Matt McQuaid, this meant quieting the crowd by hitting five triples between them, as Winston floated in high-arcing teardrop layup after teardrop layup.
If you were introducing basketball to someone, you could hardly do better than a first half in which both teams averaged over 1.2 points per possession. It was 20 minutes in which the sport seemed to be on steroids.
Neither team had to sustain such a torrid pace to win. But all parties have to come to an end at some point, and the partygoers have to sober up in time to go to work the next morning.
Michigan State did. Michigan didn’t.
From the 15-minute mark until Poole’s last gasp, the Wolverines scored just nine points. Meanwhile, Winston finished with 27 points, eight assists and two steals.
The Spartans never threw a knockout blow. Winston continued to do his thing, Michigan’s shots stopped falling and slowly but surely, Michigan State sucked the life out of Crisler Center.
“For 30 minutes,” Beilein said, “it was a tremendous basketball game.”
Now that the party’s over?
The blurry pictures are deleted from phones, the hazy, potentially embarrassing debauched memories forced to be forgotten. Brazdeikis and junior center Jon Teske speak with reporters and give short, concise, monotone answers about what went wrong.
Give the Spartans credit. Their defense was great. We just didn’t hit shots. We’ll bounce back. We’ll learn from this one.
This is what a rivalry game looks like on the losing side. The rivalry gets stripped away. If there’s any extra pain here, it’s not on display.
In his two-minute opening statement, Beilein doesn’t mention the fact that Michigan and Michigan State don’t exactly exist on friendly terms. He admits the Spartans outplayed his team today, the same as if it were any other opponent. Furthermore, the Big Ten race is still on. As cliche as it sounds, anything can indeed happen. There’s work left to be done.
“There’s so much more to our season than beating Michigan State,” Beilein said. “I know that hurts some of our fans … (but) everybody should be very happy they went to something like that for at least 30 minutes, and of course, the Michigan State fans for 40.”
Michigan State, of course, doesn’t have to go to work just yet. The Spartans can sleep in and revel just a bit longer.
Tom Izzo is asked if this win, under the circumstances, was one of his team’s biggest. Michigan State’s coach answers affirmatively.
“John and I talked before the game, this could end up one of the best rivalries,” Izzo said. “ … There aren’t a lot of places where two schools, in state, both ranked in the top-10.”
Both teams have had their say. Crisler Center, finally, settles.
The former Wolverine greats will return home to their post-basketball lives. Their past glories, brought back for a day, will return to the past.
Cleaning crews pick up trash and sweep away debris. They leave a yellow foam finger, which, for a while, stands alone in Section 118. Eventually, that too is gone.
The Maize Out is no more. The shirts have been taken home by those in attendance, and the seats’ normal blue color is visible again.
The Maize Rage, too, has disappeared. The seats have been pushed to the wall to make way for six hoops, three on either side of the court, for Michigan’s practices later this week.
After a supercharged weekend of basketball, it’s time to return to the office.
Shames can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.