In the end, it was just too much for the Spartans. Despite a rollicking sold out crowd at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Saturday night, on Sunday, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo acknowledged that the Michigan Wolverines were just too perfectly on their game. The result was the Wolverines staying perfect in the Big Ten Conference and taking sole possession of the top spot with a 80-75 win.
Michigan State (18-2, 7-1 Big Ten) looked good throughout much of the match, with their defense shining through and star sophomore Gary Harris nailing three-pointers and making shots and plays all night long. Where it came back to bite them was in the end, after MSU's stars had given their all and fatigue took a moment to rear its ugly head in with only a few minutes left. Michigan (15-4, 7-0) was able to take advantage of the momentary slip and gain an eight point lead, which became insurmountable for the Spartans as the final minutes ticked off the clock.
According to Izzo, it certainly didn't help his team's case when Michigan was relentless on the free throw line and in the back court making a number of three-point plays.
"I've got to give Michigan credit, they made some big threes," Izzo said of the Wolverines, who were 11-for-19 from long range as a team.
Michigan has now won five of their last seven match ups with the Spartans and for a Wolverines team that struggled a bit out of the gate and with their early-season loss of Mitch McGary to back surgery, things are certainly looking more positive according to head coach john Beilein.
"This is one step in the right direction with a long way to go," Beilein said. "Our kids are excited about it because of the atmosphere — the tremendous atmosphere you all have up here, and that makes it even sweeter."
Michigan State was once again without star senior Adreian Payne, who missed his fifth-straight game to a foot injury and was also without the veritable Branden Dawson, who is out for a month with a self-inflicted broken hand. It was in those final minutes of the game, where the Spartans just seemed unable to make the difference, that the loss of Payne and Dawson were felt most dramatically. The Spartans struggled with some of their lesser-played guys on the floor fighting for the ball, desperate to battle back.
It didn't take long for the smack talk to start shortly after the game on twitter, with many of the U of M players happily blowing kisses to a riled-up crowd as they left the floor.
Izzo says his main goal now if for him to show his players just how much they need to hate losing. Now that the loss is a part of recorded history, and the Spartans are no longer unbeaten in the conference, it's time to learn something from the defeat.
"I want them to realize they hate losing, and they definitely hate losing to their rival," Izzo said of the loss. "And then that we've got to be a little smarter. Four minutes left and we can't rely on a call, we've got to run and execute some plays. We got a little bit out of it for a while. I think Keith's (Appling) used to being able to go in there and slash and spin and move, and you could see he couldn't do that as well. So we're gonna have to get a little smarter down the stretch."
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.