By Steve Jackson
Daily Sports Writer
EAST LANSING This was supposed to be the best chance in years for the Wolverines to conquer their archrivals.
But this loss in East Lansing, just like all the others of late, was far from close. Michigan State led for the final 34 minutes, cruising to a 71-44 victory.
“It didn”t seem like a game that we should have won by 27 points,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Neither team played very well or very poorly. We just grinded it out, scored a couple extra points, made a couple putbacks and they just missed some shots.”
The Wolverines missed plenty. Michigan shot less than 30 percent from the field for the game.
“You can look at a lot of things in a game like this,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “But if you shot a percentage like that you”re not going to beat anyone.”
After scoring just 47 points against Ohio State, Amaker called it “the worst performance of the year.” But last night he sang a different tune.
“I thought it was a competitive game,” Amaker said. “That”s just my opinion but I thought the guys gave us a lot of effort tonight.”
In the first half, the Spartans nearly doubled up Michigan after guard Marcus Taylor hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to make the score 31-19 heading into intermission.
The East Lansing native drilled it right in the face of Michigan”s hometown boy LaVell Blanchard.
“That was a huge shot,” guard Avery Queen said. “That really gave them a lot of momentum for the rest of the game.”
The Wolverines started out strong, scoring the game”s first five points, but shortly thereafter their offense went into hibernation. Shot clock violations and airballs showcased the team”s inconsistent offensive execution.
“We weren”t moving,” Queen said. “Everybody was just standing around the perimeter playing dead everybody.”
At one point Michigan had four trips down the court without a shot so much as hitting the rim. The Spartans took advantage using an 11-0 run to put the game away early.
Adam Ballinger”s 14 points led a balanced attack for Michigan State, which had four players in double figures. Chris Young was strong inside for the Wolverines, scoring 13 points despite getting into early foul trouble.
“We really need Chris to keep our offense going,” Gavin Groninger said. “We need to be able to get the ball inside. Keeping him out of foul trouble is going to be a key for us all year.”
After scoring just two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the first 20 minutes, Blanchard stepped up his play in the second half to finish with a game-high 16 points, but it was in vain. Michigan State”s early charge was just too much to handle.
“We knew that we needed to come out with a run right away,” Blanchard said. “We just never got much of a run going.”
The rest of the Wolverines struggled too much offensively, as only Blanchard and Young were able to post more than five points. Adding insult on top of insult, Michigan State football player Aaron Alexander and crowd favorite Matt Ishbia scored the game”s final five points.
Michigan never got closer than 14 points in the second half, hardly closing the gap on this recently one-sided rivalry.
“You watched all those games,” said a frustrated Blanchard. “Did you see any improvement?”