For the third time in less than two months, the No. 22 Michigan State Spartans (25-8, 12-6) will get their shot against in-state rival Michigan Wolverines.
Six players scored in double figures for the Spartans on Saturday, as they came away with a 83-75 victory over the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers (26-7, 12-6) to move on to the Big Ten tournament championship game against the Wolverines.
Senior big man Adreian Payne led the way for the Spartans, navigating foul trouble throughout the afternoon to finish with a team-high 18 points. Branden Dawson (14 points), Gary Harris (12), Denzel Valentine (12), Travis Trice (11), and Keith Appling (10), rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Spartans.
In the first half of Saturday’s contest, Michigan State came out absolutely on fire, taking a 43-26 lead into the break. To get an idea on just how hot this MSU Basketball team was in the first 20 minutes of the game, they shot a blazing 17 of 26 from the field (65.4%) and built their lead to as many as 21 points.
“We got off to such a good start,” MSU Basketball head coach Tom Izzo said after the victory over Wisconsin. “We made shots, they didn’t make shots. I thought we played some of our best basketball of the year in that first five minutes, and we built a pretty good lead.”
Coming out into the second half of the game, Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky looked like he was on a mission, leading a Badger run that quickly cut the Michigan State lead to ten, 49-39, with 16:02 to play.
However, following Wisconsin’s quick start to the second half, Michigan State managed to stave off the Badger’s initial run, not allowing them to get any closer than six for the remainder of the afternoon.
Kaminsky did all he could to put his the Badgers on his back, finishing with a game-high 28 points, but in the end, the Spartan’s hot start and hot shooting proved to be the difference as they went on to take the game, 83-75.
And now, for the first time in the Big Ten tournament’s 17-year history, the championship game will feature the two rival schools from the state of Michigan: The No. 8 Michigan Wolverines (25-7, 15-3) and the No. 22 Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan has been the best team in the Big Ten all season long, having finished conference play three games clear of the field. In addition to this, the Wolverines swept the season series with the Spartans this year, winning by five in East Lansing in January, and then by nine in Ann Arbor a month later.
As for how these two teams have been playing in the Big Ten tournament, for Michigan State, they’ve looked great in post season play thus far, potentially a sign that they’ve finally begun to right the ship that appeared to be going down late in the regular season.
And while Michigan State has cruised by both their opponents on their way to this final, the Wolverines have only managed to squeak by both Illinois and Ohio State in their two games.
Nevertheless, it’s still no question Michigan should once again be the favorite against the Spartans for Sunday’s championship game.
But with the way Michigan State has looked thus far in the tournament, and taking into account that Michigan State will finally be 100 percent healthy in the match up between these two teams, it gives this game all the makings of being a classic, not to mention the fact that beating a good team three times in a row is a very tough thing to do.
“I’m very excited to be given a chance just to play against these guys,” Dawson said after the Spartan’s victory on Saturday, who was forced to sit out of the previous two match ups this season versus Michigan due to a broken hand. “Just sitting out watching those two games, I felt like I could have helped out a lot. Michigan is a great team, and they deserve all the accolades they have been going through.”
Tip-off for Sunday’s monumental match-up will take place at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised on CBS.