The Michigan Wolverines hosted a rematch on Saturday afternoon against the rival Michigan State Spartans and walked out of Crisler Center as 77-68 winners. The win snaps a four-game losing streak to the Spartans dating back to last season and is head coach Juwan Howard’s first in the rivalry.
Junior forward Isaiah Livers returned to game action after missing three-straight games and nine of the last 10 with a groin injury suffered on Dec. 21. He started and finished the game with 14 points. Zavier Simpson had one of his best performances of the year and led the team in scoring with 16 points and 8 assists for good measure. Cassius Winston led the Spartans with 20 points on 5-for-18 shooting.
The Wolverines went into the locker room with a 29-23 lead over the Spartans despite shooting only 32.3 percent from the floor (10-for-31). However, it was their three-point shooting that carried the load offensively for them, going 7-for-17 in the first half of play. That combined with some tremendous defense, especially in transition, helped Michigan get out to the early lead. Simpson led Michigan with 9 first-half points, while Winston was held to only 4 points in the opening 20 minutes despite going off against the Wolverines in the first meeting between the two squads.
Michigan would lead for the duration of the second half despite the Spartans throwing some haymakers of their own and getting the deficit down to 1-point in a few spots. However, the game seemed to start tilting in favor of the Wolverines after a Jon Teske dunk in transition.
The Wolverines would lead by as much as 12 points in the second half and held a 65-55 lead with 2:21 to play. MSU would get the deficit down to six points before starting to foul with under two minutes to play. Simpson made the front end of a 1-and-1 to give Michigan a 66-59 lead and Eli Brooks hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 68-59 with 1:42 to play. The Wolverines would lead 69-60 and it felt like that was it for the Spartans, that is until Winston came up with a three from 30-feet out to get the score down to 69-63. Franz Wagner nailed a pair of free throws to put things at 71-63 in the final minute of play. The Wolverines would hold off MSU by a final score of 77-68.
- This is a different basketball team with a healthy Livers. His energy was palpable and it was a terrific effort from start to finish and he did not appear limited. The crowd and the team feeds off of his energy when he is out there and he had a block that darn near sealed the game in the final minute or so. This could be a fun stretch run for this team if his groin injury is behind him.
- For as much crap as Simpson has gotten recently, he played one of his better games of the year and helped carry the team like you would expect a senior captain to. Well-done by “Jeff Jackson” in this game.
- Brandon Johns was booted to the bench with Livers returning, but still brought the same energy and hustle we have gotten used to seeing. Teske had a highlight moment in the game, but still goes through stretches of the game where you don’t even notice him out there. Austin Davis, however, continues to play well and his development has been notable throughout the season. It might not be a bad idea to start taking some of Teske’s minutes and distributing them to those other two guys. I am especially intrigued by the idea of Johns getting some run at the five.
- Wagner brings it on the defensive end every game despite still working through things offensively. We have talked about this here before, but an offseason in the strength program is going to do wonders for his development. The shots are right there for him, but they don’t fall enough.
- This was a terrific coaching job by Howard and he had his guys ready to go. There was not much difference between the two teams early on other than Michigan was the team diving around the floor for loose balls and parlaying their energy into the other facets of the game, namely the outside shooting. Howard has empowered them to shoot all season long and today that confidence paid off in some critical moments.
- This is a win that Michigan needed to get after dropping the Ohio State game earlier this week. All of the sudden, they have added another resume win to their total and one can argue that they might just have a better overall body of work than MSU does at this point in the year. With games against Northwestern and Indiana up next and a fully-healthy team, they have a chance to get things rolling here.
Next up for Michigan is a trip to Northwestern on Wednesday evening from Evanston, Illinois. Then, they host Indiana on Sunday, Feb. 16.