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March 3, 2013ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan State committed two crucial give-aways in the final minute of a 58-57 loss at Michigan on Sunday, and with it went most of the Spartans' chances of winning the Big Ten regular season championship.
Michigan's Trey Burke stole the ball from Keith Appling near midcourt and went in for a dunk with :22 seconds left to put No. 4-ranked Michigan up 58-56, and then Burke intercepted a Gary Harris in the final seconds as the No. 9 Spartans suffered through an 18-turnover day and a costly defeat.
Michigan State (22-7 overall and 11-5 in the Big Ten) is now two games behind Indiana in the Big Ten standings.
Indiana must lose to Ohio State and Michigan, and the Spartans must win out in order for the Spartans to gain a share of a second straight conference title.
"It's frustrating to know that we probably won't win the Big Ten regular season," said senior center Derrick Nix, who struggled mightily after being a dominant force in the first meeting between these two teams. "It kills the happy vibe. We have to pick everybody up and get ready for Wisconsin."
Michigan State led by seven in the first half at 31-24, but was stuck on 31 until the 14:54 mark of the second half. By that time, the Spartans had allowed Michigan to storm back and take a 36-31 lead.
"The way we finished up the half, that hurt a little bit, and the way we started out the second half was the difference in the game," said head coach Tom Izzo. "All the things we had been doing such a good job of - we were defending and rebounding the daylights out of the ball in the first half. But they got some second shots and made some plays.
"If you would have told me they were going to go 0-for-12 from the 3, but when you're dunking it why should you shoot any shots? The number of points off of turnovers were the difference in the game and they deserved to win it."
The Final Sequence
In addition to the turnovers which led to Michigan breakouts and athletic finishes, Izzo will lament three blown opportunities on the Spartans' final three possessions.
The Spartans had the ball with the shot clock off at 56-56 after an Appling steal at the other end. But Burke's first big defensive play, the steal and lay-up, gave Michigan the lead.
What went wrong on the play? As Appling came across halfcourt, Izzo signaled that he wanted a time out.
In addition to calling the time out, Izzo signaled that he wanted Appling to dribble to the other side of the floor before calling time out. Izzo has been making similar instructions for years, in order to get the ensuing in-bound play from a favorable part of the floor.
While Appling was getting the signal, he lost sight of Burke. Burke made the steal from the back side and went in for what turned out to be the winning points.
Then, down by 2, Michigan State had a chance to tie with :08 seconds left, but Nix missed one of two free throws.
Then Michigan State had the ball with :04 seconds left and a chance to win after Michigan's Mitch McGarry missed the front end of a one-and-one.
After a time out, Izzo opted to send the offense through Gary Harris, while using Appling as a shooting guard option.
Harris was supposed to catch an in-bound pass near the top of the key after coming off a double stagger downscreen. Michigan switched defenders, which allowed the Wolverines to track Harris better. Michigan customarily doesn't switch on a play like that and instead tries to chase players around and under screens, which makes them easier to pick off with downscreens. This time, however, Michigan altered their tendencies and messed things up for Harris with the switch.
From there, it's unclear whether Harris was supposed to catch-and-shoot, or continue to drive to the left for his own shot in the lane or a kick-out to Appling.
"I was supposed to get me or Keith a shot, and I turned the ball over," Harris said.
After Harris was thwarted initially by the switch, Nix came out to attempt to set a ball screen for Harris. Harris could have used that ballscreen to go right, but instead he refused it and went left, into more traffic.
Was Nix's ball screen part of the original play, or a freelancing attempt to bail out a failing play? We don't know for sure.
"We were looking to get Gary a shot at the top of the key or Keith getting in, and we didn't run it right," Izzo said. "We had a couple of freshmen in there and one of them ... we struggled with it, so that's my fault."
Izzo on deciding to not send the offense through Appling at the end:
"I didn't know where Keith was at the time; he was frustrated by turning the ball over so I thought I'd go to Gary. We did the right thing, we just didn't execute right.
"Appling actually was going to get the ball back. Just trust me on it, there was a play that we were going to run and I think it would have been open if the first guy would have ran it right. The first guy didn't and it changed and it allowed them to switch, and that's the way it goes."
Harris on the final seconds, and more:
What Happend to Nix?
Michigan held Michigan State to just 35.6 percent shooting, just four days after the Wolverines allowed 49 second-half points in a collapse at Penn State.
Michigan's defense was also a stark departure from the listless resistance the Wolverines showed Michigan State in the teams' first meeting, a 75-52 Spartan victory in East Lansing on Feb. 12.
"They played better defense and we played worse offense," Izzo said. "They don't press. They don't pressure you and we turned the ball over 18 times."
That included four offensive fouls in the opening minutes of the second half while Michigan changed momentum.
Michigan played tougher defense in the post than the first time around in making it difficult for Nix to get the ball, while also instituting some tactical flopping when MSU did get it in deep.
Despite the 18 turnovers and poor shooting, Michigan State was still in the game thanks to a 44-29 edge in rebounding. The Spartans gained offensive rebounds on 50 percent of their missed shots.
"They played good defense," Izzo said. "We didn't get the ball inside. That was one of the gameplans."
Michigan bumped Nix out of low post position and fronted him, making it difficult for him to get touches in the low post. He had 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting with six turnovers and two assists.
"They like fronted me, almost," Nix said. "There was nothing I could do."
Nix said he had to come out farther to get the ball, which took him out of his comfort zone at times.
"That took away from my game," he said. "We tried to get some inside-out shots, but I don't know."
Izzo felt the post entry problems should not have ended there.
"They did a decent job on Nix, but I thought we could have gotten it into Adreian Payne, and he was floating around the perimeter. That's my fault and not his."
The Michigan State loss clinches at least a share of the Big Ten title for Indiana.
Burke had 21 points and eight assists. Michigan won despite going 0-for-12 from 3-point range.
The Spartans have lost three straight -- to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan -- and their tough stretch isn't over. They face Wisconsin next.
Payne had 17 points and Harris added 16 for the Spartans.
Why The Late Time Out?
For those questioning whether Izzo should have called time out when Payne was pushing a dribble near halfcourt after McGarry's miss, save your anxiety.
"I was going to call time out as soon as I crossed halfcourt anyway," Payne said. "Because that's what we do."
When asked if he thought about letting that break go, Izzo answered sharply: "No. No. Don't even go there. He was almost turning it over, that's why I called it. I was going to let it go, but when he took two dribbles and there were three guys around him and we had 18 turnovers, no. Definitely not.
"If it was in Appling's hands, I was going to do that, but not in Payne's hands."
Worried About Appling?
Appling suffered through his fifth straight game of sub-50 percent shooting at 3-of-9 from the field for 9 points. He was 0-for-3 from 3-point range and is now 2-of-22 from 3-point range over his last five games.
But Appling looked quicker and stronger on defense, and faster with the push in transition after the bye week.
Izzo said he wasn't concerned about Appling's psyche.
"I'm really not," Izzo said. "I thought he pushed the ball. Most of the time, he checked pretty well. When he got in foul trouble we changed some things.
"He pushed the ball a lot better than he's been pushing it. He missed some shots.
"That last play, give Burke credit. He made a hell of a play. I don't blame that on Appling.
"Like I said, if we would have played better - some of our bigs and other guys inside earlier in that half, we wouldn't have been in that position. I'm really not worried about Appling. I was more last week. He had a good week of practice. He pushed the ball better than he has in a long time. He played pretty good defense.
"Even though he had that turnover at the end, remember he's the guy that caused their turnover to give the ball back to us."
Bielien's Late-Half Wrinkles Pay Off
Michigan coach John Bielien turned in a pair of good defensive moves in the final seconds of each half, causing a big momentum change before halftime and preserving the 1-point victory at the end.
With less than :40 seconds left in the first half, and the Spartans up 31-26, Michigan State was in good position to retain at least a 5-point lead at the break and perhaps go up by 7 or more with a shot inside of :05 seconds to go.
But miscommunications between Izzo and reserve point guard
Travis Trice hurt MSU's final possession of the second half, which eventually went from bad to worse.
Izzo wanted the time out on the far hashmark with :15 seconds left on the shot clock. Trice called the time out, but he called it earlier than Izzo wanted.
Izzo accepted the error as part of the reality of ending the half with a back-up point guard at the controls while Appling sat with two fouls. Moreover, Trice saw only 17 minutes of playing time in February after sustaining a head injury on Jan. 31 against Illinois, and although he made two big 3-pointers in the first half of this game against Michigan, his game decisions are still a bit rusty.
After the early time out, Izzo couldn't go with a quick-hitting sideline in-bound play and instead had to draw up a play that would waste :10 seconds and then get into some structure.
As the play developed however, Michigan surprised Michigan State with a 1-3-1 zone defense - marking the only time all day the Wolverines played what used to be Bielien's favorite defense.
Trice didn't recognize the defense, didn't change the play, and ended up forcing a bad fall-away shot as the shot clock came to an end.
Michigan rebounded and scored quickly in transition to cut MSU's lead to 3, changing momentum heading into halftime.
As for MSU's final play, which resulted in Burke's interception of Harris, the Wolverines surprised the Spartans with another defensive wrinkle.
While MSU drew up a play for Nix to set a ball screen for Appling, Michigan surprised the Spartans by not sending Wolverine center McGary up to the top of the key with Nix. This in addition to surprising MSU by switching on the downscreen before the in-bound (mentioned above).
Michigan left McGary in the lane, 20 feet away from Nix, to help guard against the drive or a screen-and-roll. He didn't come out to trap the point guard the way Michigan had played ball screen defense all day and most of the season.
This was a gamble by Michigan which paid off, but probably shouldn't have.
MSU was banking on having two defenders jumping out on Harris during the ball screen (McGary and the man covering Harris).
Whether it was via a ball screen, or a drive and kick, MSU planned to have Harris draw the two defenders and kick it over to Appling on the left wing, presumably capitalizing on room created by sagging Michigan defenders (which is part of their trapping ball screen defensive rotation).
Instead of using Nix's ball screen and going right, Harris refused the ball screen and tried to create something to the left.
With McGary not coming out to trap Harris, Michigan had more help defenders in the area when Harris went left. Harris soon ran into trouble and threw the interception.
What if Harris had used the ball screen? He most likely would have been open for a jump shot off the dribble, provided that Nix's screen was a solid one.
Why would Harris have been open? Because McGary didn't come out with Nix to defend the ball screen. McGary was in the lane.
Keeping McGary in the lane worked perfectly for the way Harris played it. But it might have turned out to be a poor play by Michigan if Harris had used the screen and gone right.
The Rest Of It
"Nothing," Izzo said. "Good player. Good kid."
Click below for Izzo's postgame press conference: