EAST LANSING — Entering a battle, you brandish your best weapon.
In Saturday’s bout between Michigan (10-8 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) and No. 10 Michigan State (16-4, 7-2), both teams did exactly that. The Spartans, however, proved theirs to be sharper, dominating the second half to take down the Wolverines, 83-67.
“We allowed guys to run past us for a dunk, allowing a guy to run past us for three,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “… That’s not what we practice, that’s not our habits. And so, it was disappointing to see that in the second half.”
As soon as the game began, both teams showed off what was in their arsenal. Michigan started the scoring with freshman big man Moussa Diabate converting on a layup down low. Soon after, sophomore center Hunter Dickinson backed down Michigan State forward Marcus Bingham Jr. and finished with a left-handed jump hook.
The Wolverines continued to play through the post for the entire half. On almost every offensive possession, the ball found its way to Dickinson or Diabate, who decided whether to make a post move or kick it back out and start the same process over again.
For the most part, the strategy was successful. Dickinson and Diabate entered the break leading Michigan in scoring with 14 and nine points, respectively. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s response was a Swiss army knife of bigs — a rotation of Bingham, Julius Marble II and Mady Sissoko. The trio left the half each with two fouls apiece, all of which were committed in an attempt to halt Dickinson and Diabate’s assault.
“When you see that a guy is being very dominant — they’re not stopping him — then go back in until they adjust,” Howard said.
The Spartans, too, relied on their most potent assets: speed and adaptability. Each time Michigan State rebounded the ball, it pushed the floor. The quick transitions created confusion and number advantages that opened up the floor for the Spartans to make easy layups and hit multiple 3-pointers. On the half, Michigan State shot 6-for-11 from behind the arc, which led to its 39-35 lead at the break.
The game was within striking distance. The second half, though, became a different ballgame.
The Wolverines looked tired and outpaced, and their prowess in the post faltered. The Swiss army knife added forward Joey Hauser to the rotation and gained ground, neutralizing Dickinson’s size and Diabate’s athleticism.
“I saw the fatigue in the first three minutes (of the second half),” Howard said. “And you only get three timeouts. … You can’t just burn them all at once. I saw, first three minutes, we had low energy. And that cannot happen on the road, or anyplace.”
Michigan State, though, kept up its pressure, punishing Michigan’s mistakes. The Spartans tallied a total of 28 fastbreak points — 20 of which came in the second half — and scored 14 points off of opposing turnovers in the back half of the game.
Whether Michigan State was forcing turnovers, sinking threes, pump-faking Wolverines out of their shoes or lobbing gym-rattling alley-oops to forward Gabe Brown, it was clear the Spartans were in control.
If Michigan was to come back, it would have to answer Michigan State’s second-half responsiveness with a counter of its own. But as the Spartans surged, the Wolverines waned. Michigan simply couldn’t answer Michigan State’s high-powered offense, shooting 10-for-26 from the field in the second half and ending the game just 3-for-19 from three.
“In this game … (the Wolverines) didn’t shoot it as well.” Izzo said. “And if the ball doesn’t go in, that’s a problem.”