If you are a college sports fan from the state of Michigan, you most likely root for the University of Michigan Wolverines or the Michigan State University Spartans.
There is not much love lost by the in-state rivals, who are separated by roughly 70 miles.
In case you were unaware, the two teams, who are on top of the Big Ten, arguably the best head-to-toe college basketball conference in the country, played each other last Saturday. No. 21 Michigan (15-4, 7-0) marched into the Breslin Center, one of loudest and most energetic arenas in America and defeated No. 3 Michigan State (18-2, 7-1) by a score of 80-75.
The contest featured a heat-to-head matchup with the Big Ten’s leading scorers. Michigan State sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris (18.8 ppg, .440 fg%, .350 3p%) and Michigan sophomore shooting guard Nik Stauskas (18.5 ppg, .500 fg%, .462 3p%) have been playing like Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunners all season.
Stauskas finished the game with 19 points on seven of 12 shooting, including five of six from beyond the arc. He grabbed a couple of boards and dished out four assists to only one turnover.
“It’s obvious that there’s as rivalry between these teams and it’s fair to say that we don’t like each other very much,” Stauskas told reporters in a post-game interview. “So it makes it a lot of fun to come here on the road and make these fans quiet up.”
While Stauskas came into the Breslin Center and had one of his most impressive games of the season, Harris had arguably the best game of his career.
Harris, who seemed to be under the impression that he was playing an NBA game, poured in 27 points on nine of 16 shooting, including four of six from deep. He also pulled down five boards, handed out a pair of assists, recorded three steals and had only one turnover in 38 minutes of play. Not to mention the Indiana native prohibited Stauskas from scoring inside.
Harris’ efforts were not enough, however, as the Spartans were playing without two of their most productive players.
State was without senior forward Adreian Payne as well as junior forward Brandan Dawson. The Spartan’s two leading rebounders combine for 30 points and nearly 12.5 rebounds per game in 57 minutes. Not to mention senior point guard Keith Appling was battling wrist and back injuries.
“He just can’t shoot right now,” said Michigan State Head coach Tom Izzo in a postgame press conference.
Appling shot three for 11 from the field in 37 minutes of play.
Though the Wolverines were without sophomore preseason All-American forward Mitch McGary, who recently underwent back surgery, Michigan had much more time playing without him. State has been without Payne for five games, while Dawson went down halfway through last week.
But, ever the embodiment of class, Tom Izzo refused to make any excuses for his team.
“Don’t take anything away from them,” Izzo said in a postgame press conference. “They made some shots. They made some plays. We had our chance.”
The Wolverines host the Spartans in a rematch on Feb. 23, at the Crisler Center. And they will most likely have their two forwards back.
The Spartans’ next game is tomorrow at No. 15 Iowa, while the Wolverines face Purdue at home on Thursday.
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