Michigan held home court and took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. It was a battle and game of runs; Michigan State held a double digit lead in the first half, and a lead at half, but Michigan took control in the second. Michigan finally finished up winning 79-70. With only 4 games left for Michigan in the Big Ten regular season sophomore guard Nik Stauskas knows how important the win was, “It’s huge; we’re putting ourselves in a really good position.” A really good position to win the Big Ten Championship that is. Michigan coach John Beilein knows it’s a huge win for the program, and a huge step in achieving their goal as Big Ten Champions, “If you’re going to win a Big Ten Championship, and that’s the goal in Michigan, you’re going to have to beat Michigan State.” Beilein’s statements after the game showed his great sportsmanship and respect for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State program. Tom Izzo was also complimentary to the Michigan team in his post game remarks, “We got beat by a better team today number one. They outplayed us the whole second half.”
Izzo wasn’t exactly pleased with his team’s effort today in Crisler Arena, “Where the first game I was very proud of our effort, this game we looked tired. I was not very proud of our effort.” With a week off, I expect some rough practices ahead for the Spartans, sorry boys. It’s a little ironic Izzo said his team ‘looked tired’ and Beilein said quite the opposite of his team after the win, “We looked really fresh out there today.”
Can Mortals Question Izzo?
Michigan State seemed to be in cruise control in the first half, leading 22-11 when Michigan took a timeout at the 10:13 mark in the half. Appling picked up his second foul immediately following the time-out. He was forced to the bench, and Izzo was forced to try and find an effective line-up the rest of the half without Appling.
Izzo turned to Byrd for 5 of the ten minutes to end the half. Unfortunately, Byrd drew the match-up with Caris LeVert. Byrd could not handle LeVert, and was consistently driven by with ease. Izzo noticed the poor defense too, “I did put Byrd and Ellis in there and that’s when defensively they were going around us.” LeVert took over the game at the end of the first half, scoring 14 points in the final 7:45 of the half. Beilein said, “There’s no way we stay in that first half without Caris.”
LeVert finished the game with 23 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Beilein has been happy of LeVert’s play this season, “That’s what’s been the big story of this year, Caris LeVert.” Not often do I question Izzo’s decisions, but to put Byrd in to guard one of Michigan’s top scorers seems highly debatable.
Stauskas Dominates the Second Half
Nik Stauskas took over the second half. He scored 21 of his 25 points in the second, and may have made a huge statement for player of the year honors in the conference. Stauskas thought his great second half performance was a “mental thing”. He went on to say, “I just came out with the mindset in the second half that I wasn’t going to be stopped. Once I made a couple shots, it kept going from there.” He has been growing tired of the talks of him struggling, “I’m done with this. I’m not going to be contained anymore.” Contained he was not.
Stauskas finished the game with 25 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. He definitely got the better of Gary Harris on this night. Harris didn’t play terrible, finishing with 21 points and 4 assists. The major difference in their performance was that Stauskas was able to do it on 13 shots compared to Harris’ 17 shots. Harris went 4-13 from beyond the arc in the game.
Beilein seems like a great player’s coach, instilling nothing but confidence in his star player, “If you can see that rim. You’re one of the best shooters in the country, shoot it in.” He also said of Stauskas, “Sometimes what’s a bad shot for others is a really good shot for him.”
It Will Be Nice to Get Dawson Back
Michigan State played another game without their leading rebounder, Branden Dawson. Without Dawson, State was forced give his minutes elsewhere: Costello, Schilling, and Kaminski received the majority of his minutes. However, the three ‘replacements’ didn’t produce; the trio combined for 35 minutes of action and only contributed 4 rebounds, and still managed to lose 4 turnovers. Dawson is a very active defender, always playing passing lanes and causing deflections. The trio that played today didn’t get a steal or a block.
Without Dawson, Michigan State seems to struggle defensively and lack toughness. The team only forced 3 turnovers, and was limited to 1 steal and 2 blocks in the game. Izzo had stern words about his team’s lack of defensive effort in the game, “I think we’ve became too much of an offensive team and not as good a defensive team, and eventually that gets ya.” He went on to say, “You gotta check somebody. That’s the name of the game. That’s how you win big games, its how you win games on the road.” Don’t worry Spartan fans, I fully expect the defense to make a dramatic 180 degree turn with the return of Dawson; oh, and with Izzo drilling them all week in practice on it.
Will Appling Ever Be Healthy?
Keith Appling may be playing, but he definitely isn’t healthy. Izzo said of Appling, “Keith is not 100%, he is not 80%.” It’s obvious to see his lack of aggressiveness driving to the basket and his tentativeness shooting the basketball. He only attempted 4 shots the entire game and 3 attempts came in the final 1:39 of the game. Izzo knows Appling is in a tough position playing with a hurt wrist, “Of course his wrist is affecting his shot.”
Appling has had a great season, and his stellar point guard play this season is the main reason the Spartans are ranked 6 in the nation in assist-turnover ratio at 1.57. Against Michigan, the Spartans struggled controlling the ball, committing 13 turnovers. They also were down from their season average of 17.5 assists per game, only having 13 against Michigan. 13 turnovers and 13 assists make the Spartans assist-turnover ratio down to 1. It’s a big difference and a game changer when Michigan had 15 assists and only 3 turnovers, making their assist-turnover ratio 5.
Both coaches knew the turnover battle was key to Michigan’s win. After the game Izzo said, “14-0 off of points off of turnovers and I thought that was the difference in the game.” Beilein was happy with his team’s ball control, when asked about his team’s 3 turnovers he said, “That is a great stat for us, and to force them into 13 is big as well.”
Usually when the game is decided by turnovers or assists coach’s look no farther than the point guard. However, Izzo wasn’t down on Appling after the game, “I’m going to keep playing Appling.” He later said, “When he was in there we had a 10 point lead.” Izzo is referring to Appling’s +10 in his point differential stat against Michigan. After the game Izzo seemed to be coming to terms with the fact that his team may never be fully healthy this season, “Normality is not going to hit our team. I still think we have enough to do it without being normal, I really do.”
Two Silent Game-Changers
1. In the first half Michigan State seemed to be in complete control. They had a 22-11 lead at the 10:13 mark when they forced a shot clock violation by Michigan. After the turnover, Valentine jumped off the bench to get some trash talk in. He was so animated the refs had to talk to him while the teams went into timeout. Nobody likes to have somebody trash talking them, but especially by somebody on the bench. This could have given Michigan the spark they needed to turn the game around. I’m not sure, but the game was never the same after it. It was a bad moment for Valentine who played a great game otherwise, chipping in 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
2. In the second half Nik Stauskas made a three and MSU inbounded the ball to Appling. Jordan Morgan tried to jump the inbounds pass and take a charge on Keith Appling. When the refs called a block Beilein voiced his disapproval, even though I personally thought it was the right call. Well, the refs felt the pressure and quickly made a make-up call, calling a moving screen on Gavin Schilling. On Michigan’s corresponding possession, Gary Harris made a steal on Nik Stauskas and was called for a reach in foul. Harris wasn’t happy with the call, and it looked like more of a mis-handle by Stauskas than a foul. Later in that same possession Valentine was called for a foul, giving the Spartans 3 fouls in 42 seconds. The possession finally ended with a Stauskas jumper that tied the game at 48. That 4 point swing definitely changed the tone of the game.
Michigan takes sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with a record of 11-3. Michigan is in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten Title with only 4 games remaining. Their remaining schedule is soft, traveling to Purdue Feb. 26, hosting Minnesota Mar. 1, traveling to Illinois Mar. 4, and hosting Indiana Mar. 8 to end their Big Ten season.
Michigan State now finds themselves in second place in the conference with a record of 11-4 in Big Ten play. The Spartans have a week off before they host Illinois on Mar. 1, then they host Iowa on Mar. 6, and finally end their Big Ten season with a match-up versus Ohio State on Mar. 9.