EAST LANSING, MICH. — It was the first of its kind. And for Michigan, the worst in a long time.
The classic matchup between top-10 teams never materialized Tuesday night at the Breslin Center. Instead, No. 8 Michigan State obliterated No. 4 Michigan like the Spartans haven’t done in more than a decade — when these programs were miles apart.
That’s the way it looked again, at least for one night, in a 75-52 Spartans rout. It was the largest margin of victory for MSU since a 71-44 win in 2002, and the lead got as high as 31.
“We probably played our best game in three years,” coach Tom Izzo said, “and they probably played one of their worst.”
MSU (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten) looked like a contender to win Big Ten and national championships. Michigan (21-4, 8-4) looked like it had no idea how to exploit MSU’s defense or stop the Spartans from scoring, inside or outside.
That’s what MSU did in extending its Big Ten lead to two games over Michigan and a half game over 9-2 Indiana, getting 17 points from shooter Gary Harris and 14 from post specialist Derrick Nix.
“It says a lot,” Appling said of the performance. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to try to remain consistent. If we continue to play like this, the sky’s the limit for us.”
Appling scored 11 for MSU and Branden Dawson 10, though Dawson had to retreat to the locker room late in the second half, appearing woozy after taking a hit to the face. Izzo said the medical staff did not think it was a concussion.
The Spartans also got big bench performances from Denzel Valentine (seven points, nine rebounds, four assists) and Matt Costello (career highs with eight points and six rebounds), with reserve guard Travis Trice out because of concussion-like symptoms.
Michigan got 18 points from Trey Burke, but Tim Hardaway Jr. was 1-for-11 for two points. The Wolverines finished 1-3 in a brutal four-game stretch that included losses at Indiana and Wisconsin, and now have little margin for error to remain in the conference race.
“We have to learn a lot from this game,” said coach John Beilein, whose team had six assists and 16 turnovers, while MSU had 18 assists and eight giveaways.
Beilein said Hardaway “has been playing as good as any guard in the country; he had a bad night.”
The noise and intensity were at peak levels from the tip, and it was 10-7 Spartans after 4 minutes, with the teams a combined 8-for-12 from the floor. MSU’s lead got to five, then seven, then 11 on a Nix tip-in that looked more like a volleyball serve.
It was 35-19 after Costello grabbed an offensive rebound and dropped the ball in off the glass, prompting a Beilein time-out with 2:50 left in the half. Costello hit another short shot just before halftime to make it 38-24 at the break — then skipped out of the arena, waving his arms as the crowd roared.
The Wolverines badly needed to chop into the lead in the first 4 minutes after the break, but it didn’t happen. Instead, the Spartans just kept pouring it on, making shots, grabbing rebounds, imploring the crowd.
An Appling jumper, then transition three-point bomb made it 48-29 and prompted yet another Beilein time-out, with 16:16 left. But there was nothing he could do.
“Yeah, I was a little surprised,” Appling said of the margin of victory, “but we’ve just got to take it for what it is right now.”
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