Redemption must taste sweet for Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, as he watched his Spartans (26-8) drop rival Michigan (25-8) 69-55 in a dominating fashion on Sunday afternoon in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament down in Indianapolis.
Izzo knew heading into the tournament that the top-seeded Wolverines were going to be no easy match up, still, he had to have been taken aback a bit by the ease and clear fluidity his players showed on the court as they outmatched Michigan at every turn to take home another Big Ten title.
Before taking on the Wolverines, the Spartans battled a tough Wisconsin team and earned a 83-75 victory to stun the Badgers and earn the right to play Michigan for the title. Heading into the Big Ten tourney, the Spartans struggled down the stretch of their final games in the regular season, despite playing with a full lineup for the firs time in months. What fans and analysts saw against Wisconsin and Michigan this past weekend, is what many have been hoping to see for some time.
Regardless, Izzo knows his players had played two very tough teams.
"Let me tell you, we beat two great teams. Both of them are worthy of a one seed," Izzo told CBS. "I hope they don't drop much because they are both deserving. Those guys have done it all year long."
Star senior Adreian Payne netted 18 points and nine rebounds in the effort, with Gary Harris and Branden Dawson both adding 15 points each. Harris, an Indiana native, loves playing in Indianapolis and it certainly showed as the sophomore phenom returned to top form after some lackluster performances to cap out the regular season.
It would seem that something about playing close to home for the young star really ups the ante.
"Indy's been good to us," he said. "We won a national championship here, our football team this year won the conference championship along with a basketball championship. But maybe most important, we're playing a lot better."
Now that the Spartans are Big Ten title champions, Izzo, Harris, and the rest of the MSU players know that things are far from over as all 68 teams for the NCAA tournament have now been announced. After their slide at the end of the year, no one was expecting the Spartans to earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but instead, now know that Michigan State earned a No. 4 seed in the East and will face the University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens.
Michigan, despite the loss on Sunday, earned a No. 2 seed and will play the Wofford Terriers in the Midwest.
In the end, defense was the key to the tournament run and ultimate victory, according to Izzo - something he hopes his players can keep up when the Big Dance begins later this week.
"We were so much better defensively in this whole tournament," Izzo said. "When you defend you get to run and when we run, we're a better team."
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.