EAST LANSING It wasn”t an embarrassment nor was it a castration. But Michigan”s seventh consecutive loss to Michigan State, a 78-57 defeat in the Breslin Center, represents the disparity that has grown between the two programs.
“We played a very good team on their home floor,” Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe said. “I thought our guys played solid we didn”t quit.”
In the Big Ten season finale, Michigan State (13-3 Big Ten, 24-3 overall) rode a 41-23 rebounding advantage to clinch at least a share of its fourth consecutive Big Ten title.
“You have to give credit to Michigan,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Everyone thought they would be blown off the floor, and there was no way that was going to happen.”
After a confetti-doused post-game celebration, the Spartans now turn their attention to the Big Ten Tournament, where they are two-time defending champions, and the NCAA Tournament, where they hope to repeat as national champions.
Michigan (4-12, 10-17) is locked into the 10th seed at the March 8-11 conference tournament in Chicago. It will have to win the tournament outright to earn any post-season action. The Wolverines will face seventh-seeded Iowa, which it beat both times in the regular season.
“We came out here and competed as hard as we could,” freshman center Josh Moore said. “We”re walking out of the Breslin Center with a moral victory and that”s what it”s about. We can walk out of here disappointed that we lost, but with our heads held up. I can”t say the same about after we lost at Crisler.
“We”ve got a lot of positive vibes going into the Iowa game. We feel comfortable playing them for a third time.”
Michigan State never trailed in the Jan. 30 meeting at Michigan, which the Spartans won 91-64. But in Saturday”s contest, the Wolverines jumped out to a 6-2 lead, facing Michigan State”s five seniors in their final home game.
But when Izzo brought in sophomore Jason Richardson and freshmen Zach Randolph and Jason Taylor, the Spartans gradually pulled away. They opened up a 42-27 halftime lead and began the second half on a 12-2 run.
“I think the difference in the game was the first minute of the second half,” Izzo said.
The Spartans rolled to victory despite receiving just a six-point night on 2-of-11 shooting from their senior captain, Charlie Bell.
Michigan sophomore LaVell Blanchard also had one of his worst outings of the year, scoring five points on 2-of-11 shooting. But freshman Bernard Robinson finished with a fine performance, scoring efficiently off of the drive. Robinson led Michigan with 19 points.
From beginning to end in the Big Ten season, the NCAA crackdown on rough play seemed to thwart Michigan. Both Josh Moore and Josh Asselin fouled out of the game, and Chris Young finished with four fouls. Ellerbe, who has criticized the officials for inconsistency all season, was again displeased.
“I thought initially the game was going to be called a little touchy then it got physical,” Ellerbe said. “I didn”t think it was consistent.
“We don”t have that kind of depth on our front line to have three fouls on three guys (in the first half).”
As Michigan State players reentered the lockerroom following the game, donning championship shirts and hats, pity for their in-state foes was distant from their minds.
“I can”t really feel bad for them,” Michigan sophomore Jason Richardson said. “I feel that they”re going through a tough time. I”d tell them to keep their heads up and things will be all right.”
But when the final buzzer sounded and Michigan State fans rushed the floor, many of Michigan”s players caught whiff of the celebration and developed a taste for it.
“As I walked out I just kind of glanced around, and it”s burned into my memory. That”s going to be my motivation for the next eight months,” Michigan junior Chris Young said.