In MSU's final regular-season game of the season, two second-half goals propelled the Spartans to a 2-0 victory over rival Michigan in front of 2,445 fans at DeMartin Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"That was a huge win," Michigan State coach Damon Rensing said. "There were so many implications. You start with the in-state rivalry and we talk about we want to be the best team in the state."
Two minutes after junior midfielder Kyle Rutz opened up the scoring for MSU in the 60th minute, junior Fatai Alashe converted a penalty kick to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead they would hold until the final whistle.
With the win, Michigan State earns a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and will face No. 6 Ohio State in its first-round matchup at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Although Michigan State (10-4-3, 3-2-1) was dominant in the second half on its senior night, the first half belonged to the Wolverines (8-6-3, 3-3-0).
Michigan's attacking unit created ample chances for the Wolverines, while its defense shut down any MSU attempt, holding the Spartans to zero shots in the first half.
The speed and ability of Michigan forwards Fabio Pereira and James Murphy were on full display, as both players sought to exploit MSU's defensive lapses through one-on-one scenarios and clever passes between one another.
Despite UM's first-half attacking prowess, the teams headed into halftime tied 0-0.
Playing with the wind, the Michigan State came out in the second half generated two quick series of attacking plays that lead to two goals.
"At halftime we stayed focused, and we didn't play a very good half, but we told ourselves that and it was still 0-0," senior Kevin Cope said. "So we knew that we could come out and take advantage of the wind and we did just that.
The first real chance for the Spartans came less than ten minutes into the second half, when redshirt junior Tim Kreutz found himself on a breakaway.
Despite the heavy pressure by UM defenseman Jack Brown, Kreutz got a shot off that was easily collected by goalkeeper Adam Grinwis.
Two minutes later, UM was down to 10 men after Brown was issued a red card for pulling on Kreutz on another breakaway in the 59th minute.
"We knew that if we came out with high intensity that they weren't going to be able handle us," Kreutz said. "They had to foul us to keep us out of their box.
"I think we were just too much for them. That's all we wanted to do, just cause havoc the whole second half and it obviously worked."
Although MSU could not capitalize on the resulting free kick just outside the box, its go-ahead chance came in the 61st minute.
Sophomore midfielder Sean Conerty played a perfectly weighted cross from the left wing to Rutz, who headed the ball past Grinwis and into the top left corner to put the Spartans up, 1-0.
The Spartans continued their run of solid possession in Michigan's attacking third, and in the 63rd minute, they were awarded a penalty kick after UM defenseman Ezekial Harris was called for a handball in the box.
Alashe stepped up and drove the ball into the bottom left corner to put the Spartans ahead 2-0.
"Michigan had a little more play in the first half," standout defenseman Ryan Keener said. "What we learned is that if we keep pushing and keep doing the right things, then things will fall our way.
"I think we stuck to our game plan and kept pushing, kept working and kept winning second balls."
Including Brown's red card, Michigan was shown four yellow cards and committed 13 fouls on the day, while MSU committed 16 fouls.
"To win on Senior Night is special, and to win on Senior Night versus Michigan means even more to me," Cope said. "We battled today and it was a hard fought game."
With the Big Bear trophy back in East Lansing, the Spartans feel confident heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
"Any time you can get a win going into the Big Ten Tournament, I think it's a really big motivator," Kreutz said. "It's a big win for us now, and we feel we have momentum."