Michigan State got the win it needed to solidify its NCAA Tournament resume on Sunday as the Spartans knocked off No. 2 Michigan 70-64 in the regular-season finale for both teams. The win gives MSU its third victory over a top-five opponent this season, and puts it on solid footing entering the Big Ten Tournament.
The win marked a stark contrast from three days earlier when the Wolverines trounced their in-state rival 69-50. This time around, the Spartans (15-11, 9-11 Big Ten) played with a sense of urgency and aggression from the jump as Rocket Watts set the tone off the bench. Watts led all scorers with 21 points, but it was redshirt senior Joshua Langford who made the game's biggest shot.
Langford's 3-pointer with 49 seconds left put Michigan State up 64-59 and flipped the momentum back in the Spartans' favor after Michigan center Hunter Dickinson brought the Wolverines within two points. Langford could technically return for another season, but if this was his last game at the Breslin Center, it was a memorable way to go.
Michigan State entered the game as a projected No. 11 seed for the NCAA Tournament, according to Jerry Palm's Bracketology. But at the same time, Palm also had the Spartans on the bubble. After securing a fifth Quad 1 win, the Spartans can exhale just a bit. As for Michigan, the Wolverines will remain on the projected No. 1 seed line, according to Palm.
1. Eli Brooks injured
Considering that Michigan's NCAA Tournament seeding didn't take a hit in the loss, the lasting sting from this defeat may be what happened just four minutes into the game. Wolverines guard Eli Brooks left the game at the 15:36 mark after twisting his ankle following a made floater. Brooks, a senior, has been a steadying presence in the backcourt for the Wolverines this season and was off to a fast start with five points before exiting. He had to be helped off without putting any weight on his left leg and did not return.
Brooks was later spotted in a walking boot, and his status for the postseason looms large. With Brooks out, freshman reserve Zeb Jackson logged eight minutes and could be an option for coach Juwan Howard moving forward. But if Brooks is out for an extended period of time, don't be surprised if Michigan opts to tighten its rotation and move Chaundee Brown into the starting lineup.
2. Rocket Watts emerges
Michigan State seems to be at its best when Watts is rolling, and he was certainly rolling Sunday. After averaging just four points over his last four games, the sophomore guard turned in his best game of the Big Ten slate. The Spartans are now 7-0 when Watts reaches double figures. Other examples include Watts scoring 20 points in an early-season win at Duke and 15 in a huge win over Illinois on Feb. 23.
Watts has been in and out of the starting lineup this season, but he came off the bench on Sunday and may have solidified his sixth man status with such a clutch game.
3. Dickinson disappears
After Hunter Dickinson spun through traffic and tossed up a wayward shot attempt that clanged off with 10:34 left, he hung his head in frustration. Michigan's 7-foot-1 center was just 1-of-7 from the field after the miss, and the Wolverines trailed 47-38 as their freshman star struggled. But it was no coincidence that Michigan's late rally came as Dickinson got going.
Dickinson scored seven of his 12 points over the game's final 4:13 and nearly willed Michigan back from a deficit that swelled to 11 points with 5:58 remaining. The impact of his late contributions underscored just how important Dickinson has been during a banner season for the program. Relying on freshmen can be perilous in the postseason, but if Brooks is going to miss extended time, the Wolverines will be looking inside to their young star even more.