On Thursday night, the Crisler Center hosted a coronation ceremony, with the whole state of Michigan invited. Michigan State begrudgingly attended.
For the 15th time in program history — and the first since 2014 — the No. 2 Michigan men’s basketball team (19-2 overall, 14-2 Big Ten) was anointed the king of the Big Ten regular season, demolishing the Spartans (14-11, 8-11) 69-50.
“It’s even sweeter to do it against Michigan State,” senior guard Mike Smith said. “(Michigan coach Juwan Howard) showed us a video before we played of Draymond Green — he’s a big talker and he was just saying how he wishes we would never win a game. That just showed how competitive this matchup is. For us to do this on our home court and for us to celebrate a Big Ten regular-season championship and have the family out there and friends, everything like that, it was a blessing.”
From the very start, the momentum seemed to favor the victors. The Wolverines made three of their first four shot attempts while rendering Michigan State helpless on the other end with six straight fruitless possessions.
The Spartans wouldn’t go quietly, though — at least initially. Aaron Henry’s one-handed poster on Michigan’s senior wing Isaiah Livers was anything but quiet. That play, as well as another slam from a cutting Henry — this time without a Wolverine defender within 10 feet of him — fueled a bit of a resurgence from Michigan State that shaved the deficit to just four points.
After what had been a fluctuating first 17 minutes — with multiple turnaround hook shots from freshman center Hunter Dickinson, a number of contested layups for the Spartans, 18 total free throws and the steady sound of two outspoken head coaches — a flailing elbow from Henry that connected with sophomore wing Franz Wagner dampened Michigan State’s fire. The flagrant 1 kicked off a 9-2 run by Michigan, which entered the locker room up by 11.
“It was a big call because it put (Henry) on the bench,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “Was it a right call, wrong call? I don’t know. Was it a turning point? It was a big play. So let’s just say that and if it was the right call, it was still a big call.”
The Wolverines are difficult to beat under most circumstances, but especially when they’re playing with a double-digit lead — Michigan hasn’t squandered one all season. The Spartans didn’t really have much of a chance from there.
Michigan State’s struggles snowballed as Dickinson went to work on its undersized forwards Julius Marble and Marcus Bingham Jr. If he wasn’t backing down Marble, he was flushing down easy dunks off the pick and roll.
By the time Marble received a flagrant 1 for a “hook and hold” on Wagner at the 9:03 mark, the Spartans were down for the count. Michigan’s lead see-sawed between 20 and 30 points the rest of the way. With his offense sputtering — scoring only 20 points in the second half — Izzo stood on the sideline incredulous, arms folded, quiet and fuming on the inside.
“I was very disappointed in the way we played,” Izzo said. “We did not play very good. So we have some work to do.”
Added Howard: “The defensive stops on that end and also limiting Michigan State to one opportunity when they’re an excellent offensive rebounding team. That was really the key to our run right there.”
With the victory and the Big Ten title well in hand, Howard had ample opportunity to honor the Wolverines’ seniors on Senior Night. Even the scout-team seniors received the royal treatment.
The last five minutes were more a graduation ceremony than a college basketball game.
The Wolverines, who will play the Spartans again on Sunday before entering the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed, hope there are a few more celebratory ceremonies to come.
“We set goals,” senior wing Isaiah Livers said. “Outright Big Ten champs, win the (Big Ten Tournament) and March Madness. That’s how we set it. We’re one for three right now, we’ve got two more to go. I’m just excited. I can’t describe my emotions right now.”
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