The Word "Survival" Comes To Mind
I have a horrible habit of writing in a very detached manner about emotional, highly competitive games. So I'll break this post into two pieces, one about the game and the meaning and the rivalry...and the other about lessons learned in this game.
WHAT THIS GAME MEANT
Michigan wasn't intimidated this time. Do I still believe MSU is a better team? I do, because few teams can match the defensive presence and physicality of the Spartans. But Michigan had Trey Burke and refused to be run over by Nix and Payne. The turning point in the game was the three offensive fouls called in a two minute span during the second half. Michigan State's aggressiveness didn't result in points or trips to the free throw line, so Michigan was able to parry and counter.
What do the Facebooks say? Some HAILS, some ref complaints, lots of Burke praise, some Appling criticism. This was definitely not as highly hyped or emotional as the first game, but you saw the expressions from Burke and McGary when the game concluded...Pure joy.
Michigan State's three point defense was so solid against the Wolverines perimeter-based offense. Michigan did not make one three pointer, which as far as surprising stats go, might be the winner.
Make no mistake, Michigan State had chances to win. A lot of chances. And they fumbled them away spectacularly.
This was a battle to cement a #2 seed in the NCAA Tourney. Michigan's portfolio, damaged by the Penn State loss, probably needed this game to hang onto their hopes for a #2 seed.
Trey Burke. Treyyyyyyy Burke. What's so fun about having Burke in the Big Ten is that, as the years go by, people will remember Burke's year, the steal from Appling, the tremendous statistics, the leadership...When was the last time Michigan had a First Team All-American? Chris Webber, 1993.
The Burke steal has taken on a life of its own. As the thought goes, Burke knew Appling was going to run towards Izzo to call a timeout, so he knew he didn't have to really defend, leaving him the opportunity to cheat on defense and pickpocket Appling. Which leads to more discussion of, why do players have to run towards Izzo to call timeout?
As Keith Appling carried the ball up the floor, he headed toward Tom Izzo.
MSU and U-M were tied at 56 and MSU was holding for the last shot. I expected Appling to go over to Izzo and for Izzo to motion for a timeout. Appling expected it, too.
But so did Trey Burke. He cut off Appling's route to Izzo, and Appling didn't know what to do. He started to drift toward the middle of the court.
While Appling was thinking, Burke jumped in for an easy steal, layup and the lead, some free throws were missed and MSU's final "play" didn't work.
Mitch McGary deserves discussion because of the tremendous difference between his performance this time...and his "deer in the headlights" Breslin performance. If he can handle guarding big men inside, Michigan instantly becomes a dangerous Tourney team.
Adreian Payne, NBA player. Absolutely. His size and athleticism and shooting ability make him a probable second round pick. 17 points on Sunday.
MSU is now on a three game losing streak. They're still a #2 seed for Lunardi, but they'll be trending downward obviously.