The emotion ran high in Crisler arena Tuesday night as the hometown fans were jacked for the match-up against the green and white. Michigan started the game in customary fashion, pounding the ball down low to Sims for 2. The two teams defended each other well over the first four minutes and the score was tied at 6 with 16:22 left after another Sims lay-up. Then after the media time-out, Bernard Robinson Jr. strapped his team on his back and keyed a big first half run. Down 8-6 with 15:27 left on the clock, Robinson Jr scored 10 points (including a couple of 3-pointers) on a 15-5 run that put the home team up 8, (21-13), with 10 minutes left. They maintained that lead the rest of the half courtesy of a few monster slams by Brent Petway and 7 more points from Sims down the stretch to head into intermission with a 34-26 lead.
Bernard Robinson Jr. for 2!
For the first ten minutes of the second half Michigan's strong play continued. More great ball and player movement lead to high percentage shots. Starting at the 14:38 mark, post players Sims, Hunter, and Petway scored all of the points in an 11-4 run that gave the Wolverines a 52-40 lead with 11:16 to go. The only field goal from outside of the paint during that stint was a wide open 3-pointer by Hunter. Then the game changed completely. MSU solved the U-M zone and put on one of their patented second half rushes, led by guard Kelvin Torbert.
Torbert used his quickness advantage at the power forward spot to blow past defenders for high percentage buckets and also began getting wide open beyond the arc because of slow defensive rotations. He scored 12 of Michigan State's next 15 points over the next 4 minutes, all without missing a shot. Meanwhile Michigan wasn’t able to convert on their open looks from beyond the arc. That combination of the factors helped the Spartans dwindle the once double-digit lead to a mere two points. “It is obvious when you are playing an outstanding team that no lead is safe,” said Tommy Amaker after the game. “They went on an 8-0 run and that was a key moment. We could not stop them at that point. I am disappointed in our defense. We went into a zone and we tried man-to-man, but we could not stop them. We had two wide-open three-pointers, but we did not hit ours and they hit theirs. To me that was the difference in their run.”
Michigan continued to fight the Spartans off with a strong showing late from the free throw stripe. Sims went 4/4 and Robinson Jr. 2/2 over a two minute period ending at 4:58. Their efficiency allowed Michigan to cling to a 61-59 lead. Things seemed to look up when Torbert had to sit down with foul trouble, but his fellow guard Chris Hill took over with a shooting streak of his own. He hit a jumper, two free throws, and a HUGE game-cinching 3-pointer with a hand in his face with 41 seconds to go to put MSU up 68-63. Dion Harris knocked in a 3-point jumper late, but Hill and Torbert iced the game from the line on the way to a 72-69 Spartan victory.
Horton guards Chris Hill
Coach Amaker indicated that his team took the loss hard but that they’d be ready to face the Buckeyes on Sunday. “It was an outstanding game, a game that was a gut-wrenching loss for us,” Amaker said. “I thought the way they played in the second half, their shooting percentage was outstanding. I give them a tremendous amount of credit. The Chris Hill late three was a back breaker for us. We did a good job of defending that play, but he buried a big shot. I was really proud of our team. I thought we played with a lot of effort and intensity and heart. We really worked hard, but we just came up a little short. I am confident that our guys are going to bounce back and play hard on Sunday. We have shown the ability the bounce back and we will do that again this Sunday.”
MSU shot 63% for the second half, including 6/10 from behind the arc and 10/13 in the last ten minutes. Over that same time span Michigan went just the opposite, shooting 3 /13 (23%). Courtney Sims led Michigan with 19 points 9 rebounds and 2 blocks and Bernard Robinson Jr. chipped in with 15 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. Hill and Torbert lead the Spartans with 19 and 18 points respectively. For the full boxscore, click here.
Tonight’s loss brings Michigan’s record to 15-9 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten. They have three regular season games remaining, including the home finale versus Ohio State on Sunday. They follow that up with road trips to Indiana and Northwestern. Finishing the season 3-0 might get Michigan into the Big Dance, but it will likely take a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament as well.