Coming off a blowout home loss to No. 4 Illinois on Tuesday, No. 2 Michigan took out its frustration on rival Michigan State, dominating the Spartans to the tune of a 69-50 final score to win the Big Ten regular season championship.
The Wolverines had the lead from wire-to-wire and got back to playing the way they have for the majority of the season, but it took some time for the Maize and Blue to get their legs under them.
Michigan got out to a 7-0 lead, but their offense was stifled by poor execution and turnovers through most of the first half, eight giveaways in the first 20 minutes. As a result, the Wolverines struggled to get into a rhythm offensively in the early-goings.
The Spartans failed to take advantage of the slow start however, as they turned the ball over seven times in the half. Michigan State junior guard Aaron Henry did his best to keep his team in the game, scoring 10 points in the first half.
In the final six minutes of the half, the Wolverines finally exerted its will, closing the first frame with a 9-2 run to take a 39-28 lead into the locker room.
Michigan State scored the first four points of the second half, but Michigan punched back with authority, going on a 10-0 run to stretch its lead to 49-32 with 15 minutes to play.
That run took the fight out of the Spartans, who were never able to rally again. Michigan’s lead grew to as many as 28 points (66-38) before the Wolverines took their foot off the gas.
1. A ‘Senior Night’ celebration
Four-year players Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks and Austin Davis won’t soon forget their ‘Senior Night’. In their final game at the Crisler Center, that trio defeated their biggest rivals and claimed an outright Big Ten championship. Livers finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Brooks also scored 9 points, grabbed 5 boards and handed out 2 assists. In addition, transfer seniors Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown celebrated the first conference titles of their careers as well. Smith had 9 points and 5 assists for the game.
2. Wolverines “rebound” from blowout loss
Michigan was outhustled and outmuscled in its blowout loss to Illinois on Tuesday, and nowhere was that more prevalent than the rebounding disparity. The Wolverines bounced back on the glass in tonight’s game, winning the rebounding battle 34-28 over the Spartans. Michigan was also strong on the offensive glass, grabbing 7 rebounds on that end and converting them into 13 second chance points. There was a clear difference in the effort the Wolverines showed on the glass tonight in comparison to Tuesday night, and the results were plain as day.
3. Dickinson dominates the Spartans
Coming into this game, I questioned who on Michigan State’s roster would be able to defend Dickinson. The answer: no one. The Wolverines played through their big center, and he carried them to success with 14 points (6-of-8 shooting) and 10 rebounds for a double-double. The question will be how Spartan head coach Tom Izzo changes his defensive approach for the rematch in East Lansing this Sunday. Michigan State saw firsthand the danger of double-teaming Dickinson, as the Wolverines shot 7-of16 as a team from the three-point line tonight. It’s truly a “pick your poison” nightmare for opposing coaches. What’s the plan, Izzo?
4. Juwan Howard, a champion, in Year 2
What more is there to say about Juwan Howard. The man was immediately doubted by many on the day he was announced as John Beilein's replacement, and he's proven the naysayers wrong. Even the staunchest of Howard supporters couldn't have predicted a league championship in just his second season -- not in a league as strong and deep as the Big Ten. Yet, here we are. Michigan is thriving on the court, and thriving on the recruiting trail -- and now they have results to sell to future recruits as well. Following the game, you could see the emotion pouring out of Michigan's head coach. As a player, Howard was never able to enjoy a Big Ten championship in his three seasons in Ann Arbor, but he got his ring tonight. It is well-deserved.
5. East Lansing rematch, Big Ten tourney awaits
Much like the last calendar year, this college basketball season has been an unpredictable maze to navigate for programs and conferences throughout the country. One of the few positive side effects, in my opinion, is this home-and-home set up for this special rivalry. The Wolverines and the Spartans are set to do battle again just three days from now, this time in East Lansing. It’s a cool way to conclude the regular season, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Big Ten adopt this format for this rivalry and the Purdue-Indiana series. In reality, that won’t happen, so we’ll have to enjoy the uniqueness of the matchups this season. Following that season-finale, Michigan will be the No. 1 seed in the fast-approaching Big Ten tournament – an event that promises to deliver several quality matchups within the sport’s top league.