February 12, 2013

Wolverines stunned, embarrassed

They bullied us. Point blank. Nothing else to say. That's what veteran Tim Hardaway, Jr. offered, following Michigan's embarrassing 75-52 loss at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.

But of course, there was plenty more to say - and none of it good, from the Michigan side of the court.

The Wolverines were indeed bullied, belted and flat-out busted by a more physical, significantly more aggressive crew of Spartans. On a dream night for taunting Spartans fans, John Beilein's team absorbed a beating only the Washington Generals could tolerate.

The Spartans pummeled the Wolverines on the boards, 41-30. They stripped ball after ball away, forcing 16 Michigan turnovers to their own eight. They saddled U-M with six assists, while dishing the ball around for 18 of their own, with Gary Harris scoring 17, Derrick Nix 14, Keith Appling 11 and Branden Dawson 10.

The Wolverines countered with sophomore Trey Burke's 18, and 10 by freshman Nik Stauskas … and that was about it. Hardaway and freshman Glenn Robinson III scored a bucket apiece, while the Wolverines clanged away at 39.6 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from three-point range.

In short, the beat-down grew to the magnitude that neither coach could have envisioned it. Michigan State's Tom Izzo insisted his team played its best game in three years, and Beilein might take three years to get over his team's effort.

"It's a physical league, it's a physical game, and you have to embrace it," Beilein said. "We did not, they did, and they just got away from us. There wasn't any turning back after they made that spurt in the second half.

"I'm not going to say we weren't ready to play. We were pretty pumped up in the locker room. You're going to have days like this, and you have to learn there are certain things in a basketball game you have to execute every time, that you just have to do."

Paying attention is certainly one of them, he added.

"I thought our guys were distracted coming out of huddles a couple of times, and we blew up plays," Beilein said. "They have to learn to understand, because it can snowball so quickly on you. We didn't deserve to win that game. Maybe we got exactly what we deserved. Maybe it's medicine for the future."

It didn't snowball on the Wolverines right away, despite a relatively chilly start. Ten minutes into the game, they trailed by just five points, 20-15 - a far cry from the runaways early at Ohio State and Indiana.

But the Spartans kept pounding away at the offensive end, scoring on their usual second-chance aggressiveness and getting three Harris three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. At the other end, the Wolverines succumbed to the constant pressure defense, committing turnovers that led to breakaways.

U-M went more than seven minutes with one bucket, while the Spartans ran away to a 38-24 halftime lead. After that, it got flat ugly, the margin twice reaching 31 points, while MSU fans showed the Wolverines with the "Over-Rated" chant.

Some of them weren't in the mood to argue afterwards.

"At the end of the day, it's just making a decision about how good we want to be," Morgan said. "We get all these numbers, all these rankings, but it doesn't really mean much when we step out there. Other teams don't care about that stuff.

"It's pretty embarrassing, especially for me, being from here. I just hope we realize what happened today, and that it's just not okay."

"You guys saw it," Hardaway said. "I don't have anything else to say. You witnessed it. We've got to do a better job of going out there, taking our opponents' best hit and responding."

On this night, Michigan took Michigan State's best hit … and just kept taking more. They were overwhelmed in a fashion they hadn't experienced all year, at least for an entire game.

Hardaway went 1-for-11 from the field, 0-for-5 from three-point range, and bristled a bit when asked about it.

"You know what? It's not even about that," he said. "It's not even about me scoring. It's about playing with pride, putting egos aside and playing for the man next to you. We didn't do that today."

Burke wasn't buying any suggestion of a hangover from the devastating loss to Wisconsin days earlier.

"This is the worst I've been beat since I've been here, definitely," he said. "It was an embarrassing loss here today. We can't hold our heads down. We've got to get our heads up and keep getting better.

"We definitely would have liked to have pulled a victory out at Wisconsin. It didn't turn out that way. They hit a lucky shot and beat us in overtime. It definitely got us down, but it wasn't the reason we lost tonight. They had more effort than us."

They self-indictments - effort, focus, getting bullied - just kept on coming.

"We fought, in every game until this one," Morgan said. "I don't think we really brought it today. We had some things not go our way in some of those games, but at the end of the day, you've got to be able to win no matter what.

"We've got to look at ourselves and ask how much we really want it. We want to win championships, and we say that every day. At the end of the day, we've got to make a commitment to do our job and get that stuff done."

The Wolverines got very little done in East Lansing, other than assembling a lowlight tape of what not to do. They may watch it … and then again, they may burn it.

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