FINAL: Spartans fall in Ann Arbor to Wolverines 69-50

Brendan Schabath, Men's Basketball Beat Reporter

ANN ARBOR — It was a tale of two halves in Michigan State’s 69-50 loss at the hand of the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor Thursday. Michigan State was able to keep it close for 17 minutes in the first half but the Wolverines, led by their stars Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner, who had 14 and 19 points respectively, took over in the second half of the contest.

The Spartans started the first half competing with the Wolverines on both ends of the floor. MSU forward Aaron Henry set the tone for Michigan State in the early going on defense. 

Henry, the primary defender all night on Michigan’s Isaiah Livers, blocked Livers’ first shot of the game and hustled to save the ball from going out-of-bounds which forced a Michigan turnover. Henry, who appeared to have a fire lit near his underside in the early going, came out swinging on the offensive end too.

A hesitation move at the top of the key led to a blow by Livers and a ferocious posterizing dunk. A few plays later, Henry slipped past Livers’ off-ball defense on a backdoor cut for a two-handed, tomahawk slam. 

Henry, who ended the first half with 10 points, two rebounds and one assist, also added two blocks and a steal en route to forcing eight first-half turnovers for Michigan. 

Aaron Henry throws down a powerful dunk over Michigan forwards Isaiah Livers (2) and Franz Wagner(21)/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

The Wolverines, who entered the contest averaging just 11.7 turnovers per game, still held the advantage at the half due to a crisp offense littered with fundamentally sound passes, shots and ball control. 

The Wolverines are a team that has a multitude of offensive options, and when Dickinson was forced to head to the bench with 3:30 left in the first half, those other options helped Michigan grow its lead over MSU. 

When Dickinson went to the bench, he had eight points on 3-for-4 shooting from the floor and the Wolverines were up by five, 28-23. Michigan, without perhaps its best offensive weapon, outscored MSU 11-5 without Dickinson on the floor.

Foul trouble crept into the Michigan State waters late in the first half as well. In particular, it was a questionable call on Henry that led to Michigan’s previously mentioned 11-5 run to close out the opening half.

 Henry, who was guarded by Wagner, drove down to the left block and came to a jump stop upon which Wagner reached in and was called for a foul. As Henry continued the play and went up for the shot, he elbowed Wagner in the face and Wagner tumbled to the hardwood. 

Upon review, the original foul called on Wagner stood and Henry went 1-for-2 at the line. However, Henry was also called for a flagrant 1 foul on the elbow to Wagner’s face, his second foul of the game. Wagner would go 1-for-2 from the line as well and give Michigan a 33-28 lead with 2:45 to play in the half as Henry was forced to sit out the remainder of the half with two fouls. The call would prove to be the deciding factor in the game. 

“I didn’t see these flagrant fouls… there are more stoppages in a game (these days) it’s not even fun to play anymore,” said a visibly deflated Tom Izzo after the game. “It was a big call because it put (Henry) on the bench. I did not see it so, was it a right call or wrong call? I don’t know. Was it a turning point? It was a big play.” 

As a result of the 11-5 run, the Spartans’ five-point deficit ballooned to 11 points at the intermission, 39-28.

Both teams held good shooting numbers in the first half. Michigan shot 58% from the floor and was 2-for-5 from behind the arc, while the Spartans went 44% from the floor, but they did not hit a three-pointer as they went 0-for-3 behind the line. 

The Wolverines would continue their phenomenal shooting in the second half; tough defense on the other end of the floor led to an exceptionally poor shooting performance by the Spartans. 

Michigan State went 9-for-30 from the floor in the second half, including 0-for-6 from three-point land. The Spartans would finish with zero three-pointers all game.

Henry has led Michigan State in every way on both ends of the floor over the past five games and he led the Spartans today in their struggles as well. 

Henry went 2-for-9 from the floor in the second half and finished the game with just 14 points. No other Spartan had more than six points other than Maddy Sissoko, who tallied eight points in the final three minutes when the game was decidedly over.

The Spartans’ shooting woes got as bad as going 1-for-12 from the floor over a nine-minute stretch in the second half as well as a prolonged scoring drought that lasted over seven minutes. 

The Wolverines outscored MSU 20-4 over this time period as Wagner became the Wolverines’ go-to guy, pouring in three of Michigan’s five second-half threes. Wagner would finish with 19 points and six rebounds on 4-for-6 3-point shooting. 

The second half was a one-sided story and Michigan was the main character. The Wolverines outscored the Spartans 28-10 before garbage time with about three minutes left in the game. 

Michigan played like Michigan. They got after MSU on the defensive end, they shot the ball well in all facets of the game and they made smarter decisions at crucial moments. Michigan State looked like themselves too; a team fighting for its tournament life during a late-season turnaround. A team that has proven it can beat some of the best teams in the country. The difference was Michigan played like themselves for 40 minutes, MSU did it for only 17 minutes in the first half. 

“They played pretty good, we did not play very good,” said Izzo. “We’ll bounce back, we’ve been here before… a lot this year.”

With the loss, the Spartans dropped to 14-11 and 8-11 in conference play. As Michigan State now sits three games below .500 with only one game remaining in the regular season, Izzo will finish with a losing conference record for the first time in his 26-year career.

“I’m interested in getting another shot at them, they played well. Beat us fair and square,” said Izzo after covering his face with his hands in frustration and releasing a heavy sigh.

Michigan State will get that chance in just a couple of days. These two teams will face off again in East Lansing at the Breslin Center at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 7.