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Published: Sunday, 3/16/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Spartans claim Big Ten title

Wolverines see loss as wake-up call for NCAA tourney

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan State’s Matt Costello, left, and Travis Trice pressure Michigan’s Nik Stauskas into losing control of the ball. Despite his struggles, Stauskas led the Wolverines with 17 points. Michigan State’s Matt Costello, left, and Travis Trice pressure Michigan’s Nik Stauskas into losing control of the ball. Despite his struggles, Stauskas led the Wolverines with 17 points.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

INDIANAPOLIS — This time, the fireworks detonated, the streamers rained, and the students screamed — “Just ... Like ... Football” — for someone else.

Michigan hopes the next big March celebration will be different.

Nik Stauskas said the Wolverines’ 69-55 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament championship game Sunday will “wake us up a little bit.”

Searching for their first league tournament title since 1998 — and a third win over MSU this season — the Wolverines mustered few punches in a bruising Round 3.

They lost their shot and their foul-prone big men, then a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A day after blistering Ohio State from long range, Michigan (25-8) shot 31.5 percent, played most of the first half without its two top inside options, and could never overcome an early double-digit deficit.

A Spartans team once billed as a leading national title contender came full circle after a roiling, injury-filled season. They led 38-29 at halftime, then opened the second half on an 8-0 run punctuated by Branden Dawson’s windmill slam in transition. Adreain Payne led the Spartans with a game-high 18 points while Dawson and Gary Harris added 15.

Stauskas, the Big Ten player of the year, led Michigan with 17 points, but struggled with the Spartans’ blanket defense, shooting 4 of 14.

The Wolverines finished with only 17 field goals and were 6 of 23 from beyond the arc. They surpassed their season-low point total only after Zak Irvin hit a 3 with 15.9 seconds left.

“We just got beat by a really good team,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They were exceptional in everything they did. They deserve it. They were better than us, and we’ll move forward and look forward to the NCAAs.”

Michigan fans no doubt have little interest in the sob story that marked the Spartans’ season.

The Wolverines know something about detoured plans. They lost national player of the year Trey Burke to the NBA. They lost fellow-first round pick Tim Hardaway, Jr. They lost preseason All-American forward Mitch McGary to a season-ending back injury. They lost four of eight December games — including to a Charlotte team that went 7-9 in Conference USA.

And yet all they did was win their first outright Big Ten title since 1986 by three games.

But the truth was, this was a very different Michigan State team Sunday than the one UM faced earlier in the season. After the Spartans’ top four players all endured injuries — with Dawson’s broken hand suffered while watching game film symbolic of the year — a team in full was back together for the second straight week.

Add in the rivalry redemption angle and Michigan’s icy shooting touch, and the game featured little suspense. Michigan State bruised UM like no team had this season.

How badly?

Michigan State made 2 of 17 shots from beyond the arc but 25 of 37 inside of it; outrebounded UM 38-28; and Wolverines posts Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford committed five fouls in a combined 7 first-half minutes. That left little-used sophomore center Max Biefeldt playing more minutes in the first half — 12 — than he had in the past 10 games.

“When I only get to play a half of basketball, it’s kind of difficult,” Morgan said. “They showed their physicality down low getting offensive rebounds all first half. I don’t know if it would have been the same if I had played.”

Consider it wishful thinking. If this was Michigan’s season in the Big Ten, then this was Michigan State’s day. Finally.

“I thought this team was the next in line to have a legitimate chance to get to [the Final Four],” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It was the most difficult year of my whole career just because you fight making excuses, you fight players being down about it. I’ve got a minor in psychology, a major in medicine, and a two-year degree in basketball coaching this year.”



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