Spartans get win, confidence -- and a title

Michigan State uses a big first-half for the third straight game in Indianapolis to rout Michigan and win the Big Ten Tournament Title on Sunday night.

A third game in three days and a third chance to beat Michigan was nothing short of sweet for Michigan State.

After handling Northwestern on Friday and Wisconsin on Saturday, Michigan State kept the ball rolling and finally got a 69-55 win over the Wolverines – and a Big Ten Tournament title.

"It was important for this team," junior Branden Dawson said. "We've been through so much and just to finish it off with a Big Ten Tournament gives us a lot of confidence.

"We want the world to see how good we can be with our pieces."

Fully healthy for the first time in the three meetings with Michigan, the Spartans took over early in the first half and led the rest of the way.

"Once more guys got back in the lineup, we started to play better and everything started to come back together somewhat," senior Keith Appling said. "I was just happy that we had the opportunity play those guys again and the opportunity to win the Big Ten Tournament championship."

Dawson, the final piece to return to the lineup, had his third straight strong performance in Indianapolis with 15 points and six rebounds. He was named the tournament MVP, averaging 15 points and 7.3 rebounds in the three games.

But Dawson was in foul trouble early in the game, sitting down for the final 9:58 of the first half with two fouls. Sophomore Gary Harris, also named to the All-Tournament Team, keyed the Spartans to a 38-29 halftime lead as they used a 21-5 run to break the game open early.

It was Harris' dunk at the half that kept the momentum going for Michigan State. He took it straight the rim when the Spartans got the ball with nine seconds left for an emphatic dunk.

It was a stark difference from the Spartans' loss in Ann Arbor on March 23, when Michigan's Caris LeVert hit a 3 before halftime to pull Michigan within two.

"It was big with momentum going into halftime and one of the things that coaches preached on at halftime was responding in the second half," junior Travis Trice said. "In the second game we kind of came out slow and we didn't want to do that at the end of this game."

It was Denzel Valentine's message to his team throughout the game that kept the momentum going into the second half.

"Denzel kept telling us relentless, relentless, we had to be relentless," Dawson said.

Coming into Sunday's game, the Wolverines had outscored Michigan State 95-73 in the second halves of the team's regular-season meetings. That fact stuck with Valentine and he wanted it to stick with his teammates.

"Michigan, they're known to come back on us and make a run in the second half or just come back on us and make a run, so I just wanted everybody to not relax and keep it going," he said. "I'm glad everybody got my message and didn't take them lightly."

This time around, the Spartans came out on a quick 8-0 run capitalized by a soaring windmill jam from Dawson after a loose ball picked up by Travis Trice.

"I'm a firm believer in just giving up your body for the team," Trice said. "I saw it and I looked up and saw Branden and I just pitched it and he made a great play on it."

The Wolverines never got closer than 10 in the second half and Harris helped hold the Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas without a basket in the second half until the 2:43 mark, when the game was well decided.

Senior Adreian Payne, the third Spartan on the All-Tournament Team, had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Now, with revenge had, the Spartans will head to Spokane, Wash., for the NCAA Tournament where they will open against Delaware as a No. 4 seed.

"As a team we had something to prove," Harris said, "but I felt like as a team if we came out here as a team and played, the rest would take care of itself.

"We came out here, got the win – three wins – and it's time to get ready for Washington."


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