They started long before the game began.
They took the form of catcalls, chants and signs.
The Michigan State student section, the Izzone, had waited three weeks to unleash its fury on Michigan junior Brent Petway.
When the Spartans traveled to Ann Arbor on Jan. 25, Petway incidentally elbowed Michigan State’s Maurice Ager while fighting for a rebound. To Spartan fans, the blow was not an accident, and they let the 6-foot-8 forward know it.
After the Michigan win, Petway received countless pieces of hate mail from the Spartan faithful. All the while, the McDonough, Ga., native maintained that the attention could only motivate him to jump a little higher.
But Saturday, the Michigan State fans got the better of the high-flying forward.
During pre-game warm-ups, chants of “hooked on phonics” echoed through the Breslin Center. One Spartan fan even held up a sign that read, “If you can read this, you’re not Brent Petway.”
Then the game began.
And the Izzone upped the ante.
Every time Petway checked in at the scorer’s table, the Spartan crowd stood waiting in anticipation. With mocking cheers and chants of “Petway sucks,” fans let Petway know that they hadn’t forgotten or forgiven his actions in Ann Arbor.
“I knew it was going to be a hostile environment coming in, especially for me,” Petway said. “You can’t let that rattle you.”
On several occasions, the crowd’s hostility got under the forward’s skin.
Following a Shannon Brown alley-oop dunk midway through the first half, Michigan senior Daniel Horton drove into the lane and dished the ball to a wide-open Petway. The junior rose to slam the ball emphatically through the hoop, attempting to silence the roaring fans. But the dunk caromed off the back of the rim, much to the delight of the crowd.
“I pride myself on being a good finisher,” Petway said. “And I didn’t finish well (on Saturday).”
Throughout the season, Petway’s dunks have served to lift the Wolverines to greater emotional heights. But in East Lansing, Petway and the Wolverines couldn’t convert what should have been easy points.
“Those are usually automatic two points,” junior Courtney Sims said. “It’s like having a lay-up and just missing it.”
With more than 14 minutes left in the second half, junior Dion Harris stole the ball and started a Michigan fast break. As he crossed the 3-point line, he lobbed an alley-oop to a streaking Petway. Petway rose above the rim but couldn’t cleanly collect the pass, and the ball found its way to Michigan State’s Paul Davis.
“Sometimes, that’s my problem,” Petway said. “I can get a little bit too amped and maybe try to do too much.”
Just one minute later, Petway let his emotions get the best of him when he was involved in a shoving match with the Spartans’ Marquise Gray. Officials charged each player with a technical foul.
Tonight, Petway and the Wolverines will look to erase Saturday’s mistakes and the memory of Breslin’s hostile environment when they take on Illinois at 7 p.m.
Michigan has the opportunity to avenge an earlier 79-74 loss at Assembly Hall and to quickly rebound from a tough defeat at Michigan State.
“We just need to bounce back, because we need to win this game,” Sims said. “We’re still in the thick of things, so we need to win our next game.”
Even though the Wolverines boast a 5-1 conference record at home, defeating Illinois won’t be an easy task. The dangerous duo of Dee Brown and James Augustine continues to lead the Illini, who sit atop the Big Ten standings tied with Iowa.
Michigan needs to return to the defensive form it exhibited in its last home contest, against Minnesota, to have a chance at knocking off Illinois.
“We know we have to come out and keep the defensive pressure up for the whole game,” Harris said.
And a few Petway dunks wouldn’t hurt the Wolverines’ cause, either.
Notes: Rivals.com reported that senior forward Chris Hunter will miss three to six weeks with a knee injury suffered in the first half of Saturday’s game.
No. 8 Illinois at Michigan