FEB 17 – When Terry Braverman, the PA announcer at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, announced the score of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan men’s basketball game, the crowd erupted. Bo Ryan and his squad did their job and dismantled Michigan in Ann Arbor.
All Michigan State had to do was beat a middle-of-the-pack team and they would sit alone atop the Big Ten.
But the Cornhuskers had other plans.
“They came in here and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t punch back,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said in his postgame press conference.
Now MSU and U of M are tied for first place in the conference, each with a record of 10-3. The Spartans have a tougher schedule remaining than Michigan, so a win at home against Nebraska would have been huge. MSU travels to Purdue on Thursday, who is 4.5 games back in the conference and fresh off a win over Indiana. Then comes the showdown in Ann Arbor next Sunday.
Last year, the Wolverines edged the Spartans in Ann Arbor 58-57. Trey Burke had a dunk with 22 seconds left that gave Michigan a two-point lead. Derrick Nix went to the line with eight seconds left and split his free throws, leaving MSU behind by a point. U of M came into the Breslin Center earlier this year and toppled a wounded Spartan squad, 80-75.
Although Gary Harris led the team with 18 points, his shooting was off. He finished 5-15 from the field and an abysmal 1-7 from behind the arc. He has been in a funk for the past six games, shooting only 32.5 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep.
“He’s in here morning, noon and night shooting,” Izzo said. “I don’t know what you do. It’s not what I do, it’s what he does and all I can tell you is he’s working on it. We’re just going to keep going to him, because he is what he is.”
Harris has had to shoulder most of the scoring load with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling missing significant time. Appling played 19 minutes against Nebraska and wore a brace on his right wrist. He was a game-time decision and many did not expect him to suit up.
“We decided after warm-ups that we were going to try and play him some,” Izzo said. “He tried to do what he could do, but when you don’t practice for two, two-and-half weeks, when you’re not a skill guy it’s easier, but if you’re a skill guy, it’s a little harder.”
By next Sunday, Appling’s wrist should be healed more and he might be able to play without the brace. The Spartans will need all the help they can get and that includes the possible return of Branden Dawson. He is scheduled to get the pins removed from his hand on Thursday and testing and x-rays will determine if he will play against the Wolverines.
After the Michigan battle, the Spartans return to East Lansing for a two-game homestand against Illinois and Iowa before finishing the regular season in Columbus, Ohio for a rematch with Ohio State. MSU’s last five opponents have a combined win percentage of 0.667.
The loss to Nebraska shows just how deep the Big Ten is. Anyone can beat anyone on a given night. Nebraska had already won against Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana and possibly played their way into bubble consideration. No game in the conference is a lock, and the Cornhuskers showed that on Sunday