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Recap: Fumbled

The Spartans drop their third straight.

Gregory Shamus

As Keith Appling carried the ball up the floor, he headed toward Tom Izzo.

MSU and U-M were tied at 56 and MSU was holding for the last shot. I expected Appling to go over to Izzo and for Izzo to motion for a timeout. Appling expected it, too.

But so did Trey Burke. He cut off Appling's route to Izzo, and Appling didn't know what to do. He started to drift toward the middle of the court.

While Appling was thinking, Burke jumped in for an easy steal, layup and the lead, some free throws were missed and MSU's final "play" didn't work. The Wolverines won 58-57. (Box score)

It was a weird finish to a weird rivalry game. Michigan made its living in the paint, while MSU offset its crazy rebound numbers with crazy turnover numbers. The Wolverines didn't hit a single three-pointer, while MSU shot 1-for-11 on 3s in the second half and 40 percent on 2s for the game.

MSU has lost a football game and a basketball game in Ann Arbor this academic calendar without allowing a touchdown or a three-pointer. Did I mention it was weird?

Four Factors:

Given U-M didn't hit a single 3, the eFG% is about the same, but U-M had a 44-26 edge on points in the paint. How often does that happen when the other team dominates the glass? U-M doesn't post up in its offense. Instead, players drove to the bucket time after time and got easy looks at the basket. The high pick-and-roll wasn't particularly effective. Instead, it was simply driving against tight defensive coverage. Had Nik Stauskas not been knocked out of the game early, U-M may have gotten a couple 3s, though their defense would have suffered.

MSU turned the ball over on 29 percent of its possessions, compared to 11.3 percent for Michigan. Derrick Nix had six turnovers, Adreian Payne had four and Branden Dawson had three. These almost all came from lazy passes or tough passes after getting caught in a bad spot.

But like I said, that was offset by some insane rebounding numbers. MSU grabbed 50 percent of its misses, while Michigan was at 28.5 — below its season average, but above MSU's season average allowed. Payne led the way with 12 total rebounds, including six on the offense end. Appling had four offensive boards. Six different Spartans had an offensive rebound, plus two for TEAM.

The final free throw numbers were even after an atrocious start to the second half with the officials favoring U-M. But it was matched by them favoring MSU in the next stretch. Seriously, why does this happen every single time with Ted Valentine? You always know it's coming. Also, refs, please stop falling for flops. Kthx.

MSU led by seven with a minute to go in the first half, but two jumpers cut MSU's lead to 31-28 at halftime. That momentum continued into the second half, culminating in an 18-6 run to midway through the second half. This was around the time that MSU couldn't stop committing offensive fouls.

MSU cut the deficit to 42-39 with 9:41 left, but a 10-3 U-M run pushed it to 52-42 with 4:36 to go and it looked about over. (I tweeted as much). But just as they did against Ohio State, MSU furiously rallied in the final minutes thanks to buckets by Harris and Payne. But the Spartans wet the bed to finish it.

Remember when MSU was a clutch team and Keith Appling was The Closer? Seems like a long time ago. MSU has lost three straight, blowing a four-point lead with less than two minutes to play vs. Indiana, blowing a nine-point second-half lead at Ohio State and then couldn't even get a shot attempt with two possessions in the final 30 seconds at Michigan.

None of the three losses is "bad." But they're still frustrating, as MSU didn't play well, but still could have won all three. Heck, they're a couple free throws and buckets away from beating Indiana and Michigan. But that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Also, please stop slapping the floor. Pretty sure opponents are shooting 75 percent in the last three after MSU does that.

Player bullets:

-- Adreian Payne was the top Spartan, putting up 17 points and 12 rebounds for his second-straight double-double. He went 2-for-5 on three-pointers, 6-for-11 from the field and was all over the place. His four turnovers were due to getting trapped in spots and making bad passes, but he was the most energetic Spartan and was the biggest reason MSU made that comeback.

-- Gary Harris finished with 16 points on 7-for-16 shooting. His three-point shooting was a bit off again (2-for-7), but he also did a lot of ball-handling when Appling was sitting with foul trouble. In the final minutes, he was the one guarding Burke, which I found interesting. Harris did a pretty good job on that, but might have worn down by the end and looked like a freshman running the final play. Harris is now MSU's leading scorer at 13.3 ppg.

-- Keith Appling finished as MSU's No 3 scorer with nine points on 3-for-9 shooting and six rebounds. His defense was improved, but he went 0-for-3 from 3 and has missed his last 18 3-point attempts. He also had five assists to two turnovers. People keep saying MSU can only go as far as Appling takes them. I agree with that, but a sub-par Appling has had MSU minutes/one shot away from beating Indiana/Michigan. In that sense, the floor remains high.

-- Derrick Nix might have been the story of the game for MSU. He finished with with seven points on 2-for-9 shooting with eight rebounds, six turnovers and two assists. He also missed a free throw with a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. He had countless looks at the hoop, but missed them. He has games like that once in a while. MSU dominated U-M inside last game, and Nix was the key. This time, he was the liability. It seemed every shot he took at the rim was awkward. I don't know if he was fouled every time or was reaching, but he showed why he's not on NBA draft boards. When MSU can't go inside-out, the offense becomes stagnant, and that's what happened in this game.

-- Branden Dawson continues to be missing on offense. Two points on 1-for-4 shooting and three turnovers. In the first game between these teams, he was able to get to the basket. Not on Sunday. He only played 24 minutes. Defensively, he seemed to do a good job against Tim Hardaway Jr. (6 points, 3-for-12 shooting) and had three offensive rebounds, but he hasn't been the same since taking that shot to the face in the first meeting. It's been a calendar year since he tore his ACL, and we can't expect big games from Dawson, but he's been giving them very little offensively in the last four games.

-- Denzel Valentine played 23 minutes and didn't provide much offensively, either (0 pts, 0-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnover). His defense was OK, but he missed three completely wide open looks from 3.

-- Travis Trice scored six points on 2-for-5 shooting (0-for-1 on 2s) in 14 minutes, but I didn't play the final 15 minutes. It sounds like Izzo was not too happy with how the offense was running with him.

This was the exact same finish as a year ago. A turnover/bad shot leads to a fast-break layup for Michigan, and MSU can't make the final shot for the win. Three of the last four games at Crisler have come down to the final shot. Kalin Lucas made it in 2010, but the Spartans couldn't finish in the last two years. I found it interesting that Sunday's score would have been the same as 2010 if DeShawn Sims had made the final layup.

The final timeout by Izzo has been a sticking point for some. But admit it, as soon as Payne started dribbling up court, your heart skipped a beat. Yes, he got the ball out to Valentine or whoever, but it looked to me like he traveled beforehand. You can say that Izzo's play out of the timeout was terrible, and Tim pointed out Korie Lucious' shot as one where a timeout wasn't called. But that was Draymond Green bringing the ball up the court. As soon as Payne opted to not hand the ball off to Appling standing there and head up court, I was fine with taking the timeout. Izzo explained the same after the game.

So where do things go from here? I don't think MSU fans need to be any more panicked than they were after Ohio State. This was a game that Vegas/KenPom predicted MSU would lose. What this means is that MSU has to win the final two home games against Wisconsin and Northwestern to head into the postseason with some momentum while avoiding the fifth seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Lose at home against Wisconsin and there are major problems.

It would be nice to see Appling head into the postseason with some sort of confidence. It's probably at an all-time low right now. Still, as bad as MSU has been recently, they've been in all three games. This team hasn't had the "How the heck did they lose to THAT team" loss that seems to happen every year. Does that mean it's coming with Northwestern or in the NCAA Tournament? I don't know. But like I said, I think the one overall positive to take from this three-game losing streak is that MSU's floor appears to be pretty high. When they play bad, they're still in games.

But they need to get closer to the ceiling.

Now, onto a game against our real rival. #BorderBattle