For the second straight game, the Michigan basketball team tried implementing a slow-down offense in an effort to beat a top-25 team. This time, the strategy wasn’t as effective as it was against No. 1 Illinois last Tuesday.
No. 13 Michigan State (8-2 Big Ten, 17-4 overall) was able to gain an early lead on Saturday to keep Michigan (3-8, 12-13) at arm’s length for the rest of the game, and the Spartans handed Michigan its eighth straight loss of the season, 64-49.
Sophomore Dion Harris scored 22 points for his second straight 20-point game, but none of his teammates were able to score more than seven apiece. As a result of the slow-down offense, Michigan took 11 fewer shots than Michigan State, and the Spartans made the most of their chances, hitting 51 percent from the field.
Michigan State used great off-the-ball movement that allowed it to score easy points in the paint, with 16 points coming off dunks or layups. This allowed the Spartans to amass an 11-point lead by the second media timeout.
“I thought the start of the game was big for us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
“I thought, after Michigan played so well against Illinois, the carry-over was going to be big, especially in our rivalry game. I thought the start of the game we got our fast break going — we got some easy baskets, which was important.”
Michigan State’s bread and butter this season — clutch 3-point shooting — was noticeably absent from the game, as the Spartans shot just 3-for-14 from behind the arc. But it proved to be unnecessary due to the ease with which they played in the paint.
Four Spartans scored in double figures, with guard Alan Anderson leading Michigan State with 16. Michigan State was also more aggressive on the boards, outrebounding Michigan 28-18, with just four offensive rebounds for the Wolverines. This was an especially crushing blow, as Michigan features bigger forwards.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t do a better job on the glass,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
As a result, the Spartans were able to shut down Michigan’s frontcourt, holding Graham Brown, Chris Hunter and Courtney Sims to a combined 10 points for the game. In the first half, each had two points while Harris carried the team with 12.
“We really didn’t get many opportunities inside,” Amaker said. “They did a nice job of clogging. The ones we did get we didn’t complete and didn’t finish, and that certainly hurts because you’re not going to get a lot of them anyway.”
Michigan State also made the most of Michigan’s 17 turnovers. While the number isn’t ridiculously high, the Spartans cashed in with fast-break points and 21 points off turnovers. Michigan State had eight players dishing out 14 assists.
“Sometimes we have mental errors, and we need to think more,” forward Brent Petway said. “We need to start carrying over what we do in practice into the game.”
Michigan showed it had a little life toward the end of the game, when it cut into the 17-point deficit, and, with the help of Harris, hit two key shots to bring the score to 54-46. But then Anderson decided to shut the door by scoring six of the Spartans’ final 10 points to secure the win.
Harris’s 22-point performance was just two points short of his career high and continues his scoring explosion of late. After failing to score in double digits for a three-game stretch last week — including zero-point night against Minnesota — Harris has found his touch and has led Michigan in scoring the past two games, both against the solid defenses of top-25 teams.
“I feel really confident right now,” Harris said. “I feel that I play better when my early shots start to fall. I just start to play my game.”
The loss is Michigan’s fourth straight to the Spartans and 12 of the last 13 losses since 1998. Amaker’s lone win against the Spartans came in 2003 at Crisler Arena, when the Wolverines won 60-58. Izzo maintains that Amaker will help increase the prestige of this rivalry and that it still can become one of the best in the country.
“It’s been a strange, strange rivalry the last 10 years,” Izzo said. “It’s getting to where we want it and it still will get there. Things have just happened over the past few years (to keep the rivalry one-sided).”