In the spirit of the ESPY Awards next month, we have decided to take that concept with the major awards and apply it to the past year of Michigan State athletics. Readers will have an opportunity to vote for the Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete, Best Team, Best Coach and Best Game. When looking for nominees, we actively tried to avoid putting multiple representatives from a single sport in each individual category. You will see we failed miserably today when we selected nominees for Best Game. We will announce all of the winners once we get past each of these categories. You can also use the links above to go back and vote for Best Male and Female Athletes if you missed it when the article published.
Michigan State vs. Purdue (Basketball Big Ten Tournament Championship) – The basketball team may not have lived up to their expectations in month of March, but they did tie a Big Ten record by sealing their fifth Big Ten Tournament Championship. After a wild comeback attempt in West Lafayette was cut short due to a poor decision by Denzel Valentine to go over a screen at the end of the game and a questionable call on him, the Spartans got revenge by beating Purdue in the conference title game, 66-62. The Spartans got 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from the Big Ten Player of the Year in the game, as well as a difficult double-pump shot on the elbow that helped put the game out of reach. No other Spartan scored double-digits, but they got contributions from everyone else in what ended up validating a regular season where they underachieved. With the collapse of the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament, this game easily was the best of the basketball season.
Michigan State vs. Michigan (Hockey in Detroit) – It was not a good year for the Michigan State hockey team as they finished just 10-23-4 during the most recent season. There was at least one bright spot though. While the Spartans were destroyed by the Wolverines 19-6 over the course of three games, a fourth one, in Detroit, went Michigan State’s way. In the annual “Duel in the D” at Joe Louis Arena, the Spartans got the upper-hand on their rivals with a 3-2 victory. The Spartans were trailing 2-1 in the third period until Joe Cox evened the score with 13:50 left. The rest of the game was scoreless until Matt DeBlouw netted the game-winner on a power play in overtime. While the victory ended up being relatively meaningless in the long run, the Spartans beat their rival in overtime to become the first owner of the Iron D trophy.
Michigan State vs. Michigan (Football) – Before the Michigan State football team got off the bus in Ann Arbor, head coach Mark Dantonio made the team have 10 seconds of silence to think about the game and what it means. If anyone on the team said they thought it would end the way it did, they would be lying. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe it was having God’s favor as Mark Dantonio said throughout last season. Either way, those 10 seconds meant the world when it came to keeping MSU’s Big Ten title and playoff hopes alive. You know how it went. Michigan was up by two with just 10 seconds left and facing fourth down. Michigan State had no one back to return the punt. The Wolverines had two gunners and released a few others against 10 guys in the box for the Spartans. The ball was a little low and Blake O’Neill dropped the snap. In an attempt to recover and get the punt off, he was hit by Matt Morrissey and Grayson Miller. The ball fell right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who returned it 38 yards for the game-winning score as time expired. Though he ended up with a couple injuries that would sideline him the rest of the season, Watts-Jackson cemented his place in Michigan State history in the most improbable way.
Michigan State vs. Ohio State (Football) – Though this game didn’t have the improbability of the Michigan finish, nor was it against as big of a rival, you could argue that this game meant even more than the game in Ann Arbor. With the most productive quarterback in program history sitting out due to injury, the Spartans marched Ohio product Tyler O’Connor out for his first career start in what was the de facto Big Ten East championship. O’Connor showed poise in Columbus against what was, at the time, the second-best team in the country. A couple of poor turnovers by the Spartans gave Ohio State their only points in a game that Michigan State otherwise controlled from the start. O’Connor and L.J. Scott helped put the Spartans in field goal range with three seconds left and the game tied. Michael Geiger, who struggled up until this point in the season, struck the ball and put it through the uprights as the Spartans once again won a game where they never led until the clock expired. This game pretty much assured the Spartans a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State vs Iowa (Football Big Ten Championship) – The Spartans were in familiar territory as they returned the to the Big Ten Championship for the third time since 2011. In what was a vintage low-scoring, hard-hitting Big Ten game, the Spartans trailed the Hawkeyes 13-9 and got the ball back with 9:31 left. With an injured Connor Cook under center, the Spartans turned primarily to L.J. Scott to help will the Spartans down the field. What took place was an incredible 22-play that covered 82 yards and ate up 9 minutes, 4 seconds. On the final play, Scott ran the ball to the right, breaking two tackles as he spun and reached his way into the end zone for the eventual game-winning score. With the victory and a Big Ten Championship, the Spartans locked up their first bid for the College Football Playoff.
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