For the second time this season, Michigan State overpowered Michigan in the second half, and Cassius Winston led the Spartans to a victory. Even though Michigan got off to a hot start, State hung around during a weird first half, then went on a huge run to lock up a share of the Big Ten championship. Over a eight minute span in the second half, the Spartans didn’t miss a shot: during that stretch, State made ten shots in a row and went on a 28-7 run. As Michigan’s offense bogged down again against the State defense, the Spartans scored 1.39 points per possession after the break.
Winston was the engine for State, as he’s been all season. The likely Big Ten Player of the Year had a rough first half by his standards — 1-5 shooting (but seven points, mostly due to free throws) and sat for much of the half after committing his second foul on Zavier Simpson with 7:34 left. State survived in their minutes without him; they trailed by eight when he went out and trailed by six at halftime. Michigan’s two starting wings each picked up two fouls of their own in that first half, necessitating substantial minutes from Eli Brooks and Brandon Johns, as well as Colin Castleton, who stepped in after an early Jon Teske foul.
Michigan played well in that first half. Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis were active early — they each knocked down a three and each got out in transition for a bucket — and State was sloppy with the ball after not turning it over much in the first matchup. With an Eli Brooks three late in the shot clock to push the lead to 25-16, Michigan had made five of their first eight three-point attempts. Over the rest of the game, the Wolverines shot just 3-14 from behind the arc. The second foul on Iggy, who had scored a quick 12 points without missing a shot, was a particularly consequential one — Winston drew contact on the shot and Iggy was banished to the bench.
Without Winston, State finds it very difficult to generate offense, and Michigan had an opportunity to extend what had grown to a 33-23 lead with a little over six minutes left in the half, but only scored two more points before halftime. Xavier Tillman was an essential presence defensively for State: he emphatically rejected several Simpson layups and held up in their switching defensive scheme against smaller and quicker players. Tillman would go on to finish with 17 points, 6 rebound, and 5 blocks, and he outplayed Teske for the second consecutive game. In a preview of what was to come in the second half, Michigan’s unusual lineups couldn’t generate many easy looks, settling for (and missing) tough shots.
State’s second half run didn’t come right away. Teske had tip-ins on each of Michigan’s first two possessions, but State countered with a Kenny Goins three (after losing Iggy) and an old-fashioned three by Matt McQuaid (after Poole fell asleep on the defensive glass). Those breakdowns — normally few and far between for the Wolverines — came with increasing frequency over the course of the game, and eventually the Spartans were able to score at will. Iggy knocked down a three off the dribble over a sinking Goins to extend Michigan’s lead to 48-40, but State was just beginning its big run.
Winston looked uncomfortable for much of the game to that point, but he started things off with an and-one layup over Colin Castleton. A defensive scramble led to a McQuaid three; Kyle Ahrens made a nice cut and scored off a Tillman post up; Michigan’s defense was unsettled to start a possession and Winston set up Goins for a wide open three; Simpson had to give a foul to prevent a Winston dunk. Tillman made both free throws to tie the game. By that point, Michigan was imploding: they surely had prepped for State’s defense, but looked indecisive against the mismatches, rarely fed Teske in the post, and their offensive sets looked far more simple and stale than usual.
After Tillman tied the game with those free throws, Teske airballed a decent look from three, and Winston banked one in late in the shot clock on the next possession. He then beat Simpson off the dribble for a floater off glass. Aaron Henry hit a floater after a broken-up alley-oop pass fell to him; Winston charged over Poole in transition; Winston rejected a screen and snuck past Teske for a layup to put State up 7. On Michigan’s next trip, Michigan was able to get Teske the ball in the post on Winston and scored through contact — but was called for a phantom travel. It was one of a handful of questionable calls, and an important one. Winston threw an alley-oop to Tillman for a dunk on the next possession; Tillman was fouled and made both free throws after a defensive rebound; Winston made a tough shot over Simpson to cap the run.
By that point, State had built a comfortable lead and Michigan’s offense had grown dysfunctional enough to make the prospects of a comeback bleak. That foul on Tillman was a needless one — Iggy’s fourth — and Iggy got his fifth a short while later after a Tillman offensive rebound, one of many for State. Winston’s big second half got him to an impressive 23 points and 7 assists on the game, and State’s role players — particularly Tillman — played well enough. In many ways, this was a repeat of the first matchup: Michigan played well up until a few minutes into the second half when they fell apart on both ends of the floor, State went on a huge run, and Winston was the best player on the floor.
Michigan finishes an excellent regular season with a 26-5 record, but will be the third seed in the Big Ten Tournament after losing out on a share of the conference title with the defeat tonight. The Wolverines will play in the late Friday night game of the Big Ten Tournament. Hopefully Charles Matthews (who was sorely missed as Michigan’s lack of wing depth was exposed) will be healthy by then. A strong postseason would certainly mitigate much of the disappointment from the result in this huge game.
[Box score after the JUMP]