Midway through Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's postgame press conference after the Wolverines' 80-75 win in East Lansing Saturday night, a reporter prefaced a question by saying, "Tom, I know you're disappointed in the loss…"
Izzo briefly interrupted the reporter to add one simple word: "Crushed," he said.
In his first 26 games against the Wolverines as the Michigan State head coach, Izzo established dominance over his intra-state foe, posting an 18-8 record, including an 11-2 mark in the Breslin Center.
But then Michigan coach John Beilein's program kicked into high gear. In the last seven meetings between the two bitter rivals, the Wolverines have a 5-2 advantage, including two wins in East Lansing.
The most recent, Saturday's win, gives Michigan control of the Big Ten standings, with a perfect 7-0 record in conference play.
"Well, guys," Izzo said, closing out his press conference. "You wanted a rivalry, and you wanted two good teams. I guess we got what we've been asking for.
"We're still right in this hunt. Don't kid yourselves, and we might even be stronger than we were before the game. We have to find a way to survive now. It's like the NCAA Tournament: advance and survive."
The Spartans were without two key starters. Big man Adreian Payne has been battling a foot sprain, and although some thought he may be able to suit up against Michigan, he was still wearing a walking boot Saturday night. Earlier in the week, Branden Dawson broke his hand after slamming it on a table while watching film.
When asked how big of a factor those injuries were in Saturday's loss, Izzo did not make excuses.
"Michigan played good," Izzo said, when asked about the injuries. "Don't take anything away from Michigan. They played good and made some shots. They made some plays. We had our chance. We had the lead most of the game. We just couldn't hang on. We got in a little foul trouble that hurt us, and that was one of my fears. We got in foul trouble early in the second half. But those injuries aren't going away, so I don't want to use that as an excuse. We have some games to play, and we won't have those two guys again.
"Give Michigan credit. They made some big threes. I thought the difference in the game was a few big threes, especially early. They shot very well from the free throw line. I thought there were a couple big calls. We just didn't have enough left to overcome it. They made the shots when they had to make them. They made the plays when they had to make them.
"In the 30 years I've been here, I haven't been prouder of a team. I played guys that hadn't played in a month. Keith Appling, I can't tell you how much that kid sucked it up. If Gary Harris isn't the best player on both ends of the court in the league, then God bless whoever is."
Izzo was particularly impressed with what Harris, who finished with a game-high 27 points, did on the defensive end against sophomore guard Nik Stauskas.
Stauskas finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a 5-of-6 effort from three-point range, but was held in check by Harris for long stretches of the game.
"Stauskas made some good shots," Izzo said. "When Harris was on him, though, Harris did a hell of a job. We had some other guys on him at points. When you have as many shot takers as they have - or shot makers - you can't cheat very much. And when we did, he knocked it home. If he is open, he's making a shot. Twice, we left him open on poor switches with new people in there.
"When Harris was in there, we created some times when, defense, we were as good as we have been in years. Stauskas is a good player. [Sophomore guard] Caris LeVert did a good job, and give [freshman point guard] Derrick Walton credit. He hit a couple threes and made 9-of-10 free throws, which for a freshman to do that down the stretch is impressive. They deserve what they got, and we worked for what we got and fell a little short."
Walton finished with a career-high 19 points and played a pivotal role down the stretch, hitting 9-of-10 free throws to keep the Michigan State comeback attempt at bay for the final two minutes.
"Part of it, we were figuring out what we wanted to do and how we wanted to cheat to try and help other guys, when Harris wasn't in the game or when Appling wasn't in the game," Izzo said. "Even when Gary was in there, we were trying to rest him at times, so we'd move him off Stauskas for a minute. We were always cheating a little, and we left Walton open a couple times. The free throws were really important. We fouled him on purpose, because he was the least of the weapons, and they don't miss a lot of free throws. That is one of their strengths. I thought Walton played really good."