EAST LANSING — Flanked by Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison and Lloyd Carr, Zack Novak could do nothing but look on and shake his head from behind the visitor’s bench as chants of “overrated” rained down on the No. 4 Michigan basketball team.
Two years earlier, Novak’s grittiness and toughness willed the Wolverines to an upset over the Spartans at the Breslin Center, but Tuesday, Michigan was not only outmatched physically, but also out-hustled and out-worked time and time again. The eighth-ranked Spartans flexed an impressive inside-outside domination, winning 75-52 in what Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called his team’s best game in three years.
After its previous three losses came by a combined 14 points, little could salvage the embarrassment of Michigan’s 23-point defeat at the hands of its in-state rival, the program’s worst loss since an 80-57 loss at home to Purdue on Dec. 28, 2010.
“They came out early and came at us all day long,” said redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan. “I just don’t think we brought it. With them playing the way they were, it’s hard to compete in a game like that.
“As a whole, we just didn’t show up today. … I hope us as a team, I hope we realize what happened today — that’s just not okay.”
With the win, Michigan State (10-2 Big Ten, 21-4 overall) assumed sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
The Spartans beat Michigan in nearly every phase of the game, including a decisive win on the glass, 40-28, which included 14 offensive boards that led to 18 second-chance points.
“Hunger, pride, hustle points, hustle plays, rebounding, defense — all the things that you can control, we didn’t do that today,” said junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. when asked why the game turned out so lopsided. “We’ve got to play for the guys next to us.”
Like previous starts in Columbus and Bloomington, Michigan (8-4, 21-4) struggled to find its footing in a hostile environment, but unlike its three previous road losses, the Wolverines never put together a run to get back within striking range. They trailed Michigan State for the entirety of the game, and the Spartans led by as many as 31 points.
The Spartans used a 17-4 run to take a 16-point first-half lead and entered the locker room with a 38-24 advantage. Not even halftime could slow down the home team, which didn’t skip a beat. Sophomore point guard Trey Burke’s and-1 pulled Michigan to within 12 points just minutes into the second half, but Michigan State responded with a 21-7 run to take a 62-36 lead just moments after the second official timeout of the half.
Michigan had no answer for the bigger Spartan frontcourt. Michigan State grabbed nearly as many first-half offensive rebounds (seven) as Michigan had total boards (11). The Spartans’ frontcourt combined to shoot 11-for-14 in the opening stanza, good for 24 points. Guard Gary Harris led Michigan State with 17 points thanks to five 3-pointers.
Forward Derrick Nix scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting, as the Spartans shot 48.4 percent from the field, even after several walk-ons missed late-game shots. Even freshman forward Matt Costello, who averaged just 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds, got in the mix, scoring eight points without missing a shot while grabbing six boards.
“They just beat us up on the offensive glass,” Burke said. “They went on a lot of runs, scored off our turnovers. It was just tough for us to get back in front.”
Burke had an efficient first half on the offensive end, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, but two fouls caused him to sit, and with freshman point guard Spike Albrecht quarterbacking, the Michigan offense had no rotation or rhythm. Burke finished with a game-high 18 points.
Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III again looked transparent on the offensive end. Robinson made just one of his four shots. Burke had no answers when he was asked how Michigan can get the freshman back into the offensive mix.
“I don’t know,” Burke said. “I just try to continue to give him confidence and encourage him to have a presence out there on the court. He’s young and he’ll get better.”
Hardaway Jr. missed all six of his shots in the first half and finished 1-for-11, scoring just two points. Michigan turned the ball over 16 times, more than six above its season average.
“Don’t think that’s the real Michigan team, because it’s not,” Izzo said.