Michigan State was too damn fast. Michigan State was too damn strong. Michigan State was too damn money from long range.
Then, the second half started.
Suddenly, Izzo’s troops didn’t look so sharp. Suddenly, the Wolverines were dictating the pace. Suddenly, the mighty Spartans seemed just a bit intimidated by the Crisler Arena crowd.
Yeah, you read that right. Michigan State was rattled by a Crisler Arena crowd.
Paul Davis couldn’t find a grip on the ball. Drew Neitzel fired an alley-oop pass 20 feet out of bounds. Maurice Ager had his pocket picked by Dion Harris.
And, to their credit, the Wolverines capitalized. They didn’t play perfect basketball, but they did the little things to keep the Spartans on their heels. And, most impressively, it was a total team effort.
For once in a big matchup, Michigan broke out of marvel-at-Daniel-Horton mode, and played a true five-man game. Yes, Horton played an awesome ballgame. But he was only the most important cog in a well-oiled Michigan machine.
There was Chris Hunter, who catalyzed Michigan’s second-half run. The 6-foot-11 senior seems to always save his best for the big games, and man, did he show up in a huge way last night. In a two-minute span midway through the second half, Hunter scored seven points, including the trey from the right corner that gave Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. For good measure, Hunter also added a couple of crowd-pleasing blocks, and converted a ridiculous up-and-under lay-up which put the Wolverines up by seven with 2:37 to play.
There was Dion Harris, who shrugged off an awful shooting night to make several crucial free throws down the stretch. Guarded by Ager for most of the game, Harris struggled to get any open looks. But in the second half, Harris’s aggressiveness brought whistles, and he took advantage by converting 7 of 8 free throw attempts, including two at the end to ice it.
There was Graham Brown, whose hustle and opportunism kept Michigan’s momentum going throughout the second half. Brown’s not a small guy, but he looked like a point guard slicing through the lane to retrieve offensive rebounds. The senior’s glass-cleaning mentality also led to buckets – Brown poured in 10 points in his last intrastate rivalry game at Crisler Arena.
There was Ron Coleman, who made the Wolverine faithful momentarily forget about Lester Abram’s sprained ankle. Coleman’s first-half perimeter buckets kept the Wolverines afloat and set the stage for their second-half comeback. And faced with the nearly impossible task of keeping Spartan wings Ager and Shannon Brown at bay, Coleman performed admirably. Ager and Brown got their points, but Coleman never let the Michigan State stars get open looks.
And there was Daniel Horton. He opened the game with five straight points, and took it straight at the Spartans for all of his 36 minutes on the floor. Horton was money when he needed to be. With about nine minutes to go, Graham Brown flew in for an offensive board and kicked it to Horton. Seeing the senior wide open at the right wing, Crisler Arena started cheering . before Horton released the shot. Sure enough, Horton drilled the trey, putting the Wolverines up seven.
Five guys. One goal. It’s amazing what happens when “playing as a team” becomes more than a simple clich