The electricity at Crisler Arena last night could have been summed up by many different words. Words like amazing, breathtaking and thrilling were thrown around the sold-out crowd following what was arguably Michigan’s biggest win of the Amaker era. But the most fitting word to describe last night’s action was undoubtedly foul.
Foul was how Michigan played during most of the first half.
The foul was what got Michigan back into the game.
And foul was the mood Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was in after his team’s first loss to Michigan in three years.
“The officiating, I question,” said Izzo, whose team went 6-for-10 from the line, compared to the Wolverines’ 27-for-34 performance. “It didn’t cost us the game, it didn’t cost us turnovers, but . it’s just too bad, because I think we played well enough in a lot of ways to win the game.”
Michigan’s 21-point advantage at the free throw line helped spur it to a 72-67 win over No. 11 Michigan State.
The Spartans had a chance to tie the game with seven seconds to go. Trailing 70-67, they put the ball in the hands of leading scorer Maurice Ager. But his 3-pointer in the game’s waning seconds fell short. And after junior Dion Harris corralled the rebound, a Michigan victory was just a formality.
The win was the Wolverines’ first in four tries against ranked opponents this year and also put them in the driver’s seat for Big Ten notoriety. If it beats Wisconsin on Saturday, Michigan (4-2 Big Ten, 14-3 overall) will claim a share of the conference lead.
“It feels good to finally get one,” senior Daniel Horton said. “We’ve always believed. We know we have the pieces to be a very good basketball team – we just finally did it today.”
Just like in previous big games, it was once again the Daniel Horton show.
Horton’s 23 points paced Michigan. He shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the line and drained a trio of big 3-pointers at critical points in the game.
He made one in front of the Michigan State bench less than a minute into the game to get the crowd going early.
He made another to put an exclamation point on Michigan’s 23-9 run in the second half.
And he made the final Michigan 3-pointer, an inside-out play which resulted in a Graham Brown kickout that Horton swished from the right wing. The shot gave Michigan its biggest lead of the game – eight points – which it never relinquished.
But unlike the big games earlier in the year when Michigan kept coming up just short, it wasn’t a one-man show – this time, Horton had a supporting cast.
Four Wolverines contributed at least nine points. But none added more than senior Chris Hunter.
The Indiana native had 13 points off the bench – six more than Michigan’s State entire bench combined. With less than 12 minutes remaining in the game, he hit the biggest shot of the night.
After fighting back from a seven-point halftime deficit, Michigan evened the score at 45-45. With the Spartans focusing their efforts on Horton, Harris calmly found Hunter in the corner. Hunter didn’t even blink and subsequently swished the three. The shot gave Michigan its first lead of the night and brought the crowd into a frenzy.
Brown scored 10 and added seven rebounds for Michigan. Harris accounted for nine points, despite shooting 1-for-12 from the field. His 7-for-8 performance at the charity stripe was highlighted by the two free throws he made with 1.3 seconds left to ice the game. Ron Coleman – who replaced the injured Lester Abram – also had nine points, on 4-for-5 shooting from the field.
“He came in and did a great job,” Hunter said of Coleman. “We have a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of things, so when the opportunity arises, you just have to take advantage of it.”
Early on, it looked as if Michigan State was going to chalk up another win in the recently-lopsided rivalry. The Spartans had won 12 of the last 13 meetings and didn’t seem ready to change their winning ways early on.
They answered a 5-0 Michigan start by going on a 25-7 run of their own. A remarkable shooting performance highlighted Michigan State’s first half. The Spartans shot 16-for-27 from the field. Michigan’s 12-for-14 free-throw shooting kept the 39-32 halftime deficit to a reasonable margin after trailing by as many as 13 points midway through the half.
“We had a lead of seven at halftime, but it should have been 12 or 13,” Izzo said.
The Maize Rage stormed the court immediately after the buzzer sounded. It was the first time fans have rushed the court since Michigan’s last win over its rival – three years ago today. But unlike the 2002-03 squad that celebrated along with the fans, it was more of a business trip for this year’s senior-laden group.
“This year, we expect to win,” Horton said. “Our freshman year, we just wanted to go out and play hard, and whatever happened happened. This is a big win because it puts us at 4-2 and gives us a chance to get some separation from the pack.”