Spartans wear down in 79-70 loss to Michigan
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Forget all that talk about how good Michigan State could be if healthy.
Coach Tom Izzo isn't expecting his team to be at full strength anytime soon - but he still feels the Spartans can make this season a memorable one.
''Normality is not going to hit our team,'' Izzo said. ''I still think we have enough to do it without being normal, I really do. I think we have enough different pieces where we can still make a serious run at this league championship and beyond.''
Michigan State fell behind in the Big Ten race Sunday when 20th-ranked Michigan ran away from the 13th-ranked Spartans for a 79-70 victory. Gary Harris scored 21 points for Michigan State, but the Spartans seemed to wear down in the second half.
Michigan (19-7, 11-3) took over first place and can win the league title by winning its final four games. The Wolverines have home games against Minnesota and Indiana still to come, along with trips to Purdue and Illinois. Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) has home games against Illinois and Iowa followed by a trip to Ohio State.
Nik Stauskas scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half for Michigan, and Caris LeVert finished with 23. The Wolverines won both regular-season meetings against their in-state rivals, and Michigan has now won six of its last eight in the series.
The Spartans led by as many as 11 in the first half, but Michigan State was only up 36-34 at halftime. Then Stauskas and LeVert led a second-half charge. The Wolverines trailed 52-51 before going on a decisive 13-0 run that sent the Crisler Center crowd into delirium.
''I just came out with the mindset in the second half that I wasn't going to be stopped,'' Stauskas said. ''Once I made a couple shots, it kept going from there.''
Michigan fans serenaded the Spartans with a chant of ''little brother'' toward the end. The Spartans have battled injuries throughout this season - Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson missed the first meeting with Michigan. Dawson was still out Sunday with his broken hand, but Payne is back, and he had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Keith Appling, who has been dealing with a wrist problem, scored only six points for Michigan State.
''Yeah, I fell on the wrist again, but I couldn't come out of the game,'' Appling said. ''It's very frustrating right now, because there are things I just can't do, but I can't let that be an excuse. I'm the quarterback of this team, like coach always says, and I have to be out there leading.''
Michigan State had played Thursday, while this was Michigan's first game in a week. Now it's the Spartans who will have some time off before the Illinois game Saturday.
Stauskas was terrific in Michigan's 80-75 win at Michigan State last month, but opposing defenses have geared up to stop him lately, and the 6-foot-6 guard has been reluctant to force things. That all changed in a big way in the second half Sunday.
With the Wolverines down 48-43, Stauskas scored seven straight points to give Michigan the lead. When the Spartans edged back ahead by one, Stauskas answered with a 3-pointer, and it soon become clear that there wasn't much Michigan State could do to keep him from simply shooting over defenders on the perimeter.
A 3-pointer by Stauskas from the right wing put Michigan ahead 59-52, then LeVert added a 3-pointer and a dunk.
Jon Horford dunked for Michigan to make it 68-56 - and that ended a stretch of 23 straight Michigan points by Stauskas or LeVert.
Michigan State made 17 shots from 3-point range in its previous game against Purdue, and the Spartans were locked in early in this one. Payne dunked on freshman Zak Irvin while drawing a foul, and the three-point play gave Michigan State a 22-11 lead.
The Wolverines responded with an immediate 10-0 run that included 3-pointers by Spike Albrecht and LeVert and a breakaway dunk by Irvin.
LeVert scored 14 points in the first half, and his 3-pointer in the final seconds cut Michigan State's lead to two.
''I thought we played exceptionally well 90 percent of that first half,'' Izzo said. ''You've got to give credit to them, they played good. They made some shots. Stauskas hit a couple tough shots over people.''