| Detroit Free Press
Tom Izzo: Michigan State ‘did not play very good’ in loss at Michigan
Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo said his team ‘did not play very good’ in a 69-50 loss to No. 2 Michigan on March 4, 2021 in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State athletics
One by one, the Spartans’ seniors exited the game to standing ovations, kissing the logo at center court as they made their way to the bench.
Thursday night, Michigan returned the favor by clinching its first Big Ten championship since the 2013-14 season with a 69-50 win over Michigan State at Crisler Center on Senior Night.
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“I just remember them celebrating on their court after they clinched it against us,” said guard Eli Brooks. “So to be able to return the favor to them, I remember it pretty vividly, it means a lot.”
The arena was relatively empty Thursday, a reminder of what college basketball is missing due to the pandemic. But the celebration was anything but muted. The substitutions began with 3:45 left. The last came at the 1:28 mark, and before he left the floor one last time, Isaiah Livers kissed the mid-court “Block M” logo.
At the final buzzer, the entire team erupted off the bench and began celebrating together on the court. There was an eruption of maize-colored confetti. Video messages commemorating each of the team’s seniors, including student managers and walk-ons, played on the video board. Each player had the chance to climb a ladder and cut a piece of the net.
“I’ve always watched it on TV from a lot of other sports and things like that,” said point guard Mike Smith. “When I was on the ladder I told coach (Juwan) Howard, ‘I never would ever be that high up close to the rim to do that.’ It was amazing. To look out there and see my family, it was something that you’ll never forget for the rest of your life.”
It was a joyous moment for the Wolverines — and a reminder that there could be more special moments in store for them as they open the most important month in college basketball.
“This is only one step of the goal,” Smith said. “Obviously we’re gonna enjoy tonight but the work’s not finished. We still have a game Sunday, we got to finish out strong going into the Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament.”
In beating Michigan State, Michigan looked more like the team that won 18 of its first 19 games than the team that suffered a 23-point blowout at home to Illinois on Tuesday. Despite a sloppy start plagued by fouls, the Wolverines led by 11 at halftime and then extended that lead to 17 less than five minutes into the second half with a 10-0 run. The advantage eventually ballooned to 28 points.
Michigan’s defense limited the Spartans to just over 0.70 points per possession before Michigan State scored ten points in garbage time. The Spartans shot 36.4% from the field, did not make a 3 and turned it over 12 times. Star wing Aaron Henry was the only player to score in double digits (14); he finished 6-for-15 from the field with four turnovers.
Offensively, Michigan was sloppy, finishing with 14 turnovers. Still, the Wolverines were near unstoppable when Hunter Dickinson was in the game and untroubled by fouls. Meanwhile, Franz Wagner scored 19 points and was 4-for-6 from 3-point range, making Michigan State pay whenever it went under screens.
The performance on both ends, coupled with the early second-half run, was a fitting way to clinch the title. The Wolverines are the second-best team in the nation, according to KenPom.com, and have the sixth-best offense and fourth-best defense. Their excellence on both ends of the court is what led them to the Big Ten championship. And it has them in position to make noise in March as an almost-certain No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
When Livers returned to campus in the summerand practiced with his teammates, he said, the Wolverines set goals for their season: Win the Big Ten title outright, win the Big Ten tournament and win the NCAA tournament.
So while Michigan savored Thursday’s win and the resulting confetti, it knows there could be bigger moments to come in just a few weeks.
“That’s a high accomplishment for me, especially, I got a Big Ten tournament, I got to the Final Four, I knew in the back of my mind, I wanted to get outright,” Livers said. “I wanted to do it. And why not with this team? We’re special, guys work hard, guys want in, guys play for one another. Ball can roll for anybody. We all play like brothers, we all love each other. Other than that, I want the natty, too. I got my outright, we’re going to go win the Big Ten championship, have a ‘March Madness’ run, fingers crossed, and go get that natty.”