EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament streak under Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo appears to be alive and well after it was in dire straits a month ago.
Rocket Watts scored 21 points and Aaron Henry had 18 to lead the Spartans in a 70-64 victory over No. 2 Michigan on Sunday that seems to seal Izzo’s 23rd consecutive appearance in college basketball’s showcase.
“You’re damn right it matters,” Izzo said.
The Spartans (15-11, 9-11 Big Ten) have won five of their last seven games, beating No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Illinois and their second-ranked rivals in the span of 16 days.
“I bet I never go through that again in my career,” Izzo said.
The Wolverines (19-3, 14-3) closed the regular season getting routed at home by the Fighting Illini, beating Michigan State handily to clinch the Big Ten title and losing the rematch three days later.
And, Michigan might have lost more than that.
Senior guard Eli Brooks hurt his left ankle early in the game at the Breslin Center and did not return in what potentially could be a problem going into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Coach Juwan Howard did not have an update on Brooks after the game.
The Wolverines wrapped up the conference championship Thursday night with a 69-50 win over the Spartans as Franz Wagner scored 19 points and Hunter Dickinson adding 14.
Michigan’s dynamic duo struggled Sunday, missing 4 of 5 shots in the first half and combining for five points. Both bounced back in the second half as Dickinson finished with 12 points while Wagner had 10 points.
Reserve Chaundee Brown scored 13 points, Mike Smith added 11 and Isaiah Livers had nine for the Wolverines, whose last lead was 21-19 early in the game.
“We come here complacent, get blasted,” Livers said. “That’s just how it works in college basketball. They were ready to play today and we weren’t.”
Joey Hauser scored nine of his 11 points off the bench in the first half as Michigan State led 30-26. The Spartans pulled away and were ahead 55-44 with 5:58 remaining and made enough free throws in the final minutes to hold off the Wolverines.
“You have to be ready to play from start to finish, versus a team that,” Howard said. “You won convincingly in your building, and now you play in their building. A team like that, one of the things that they pride themselves on is physicality.”
Watts had one of the best games three days after he was benched for much of the second half at Michigan after not diving onto the floor for a loose ball.
“I was real mad at myself, not at the coaches,” Watts said. “I know I could’ve played better and harder at Michigan.”
Watts said his mother attended a game for the first time in his two seasons.
“She’s not really into basketball and sports,” said Watts, adding his mother calls him after every game.
Izzo embraced Watts after the game and saw tears in his eyes, an emotional reaction to having his mother in the stands.
“That was pretty cool,” Izzo said.
Fifth-year senior Joshua Langford, who missed much of the previous two seasons with injury, made a 3-point shot with 49 seconds left to give Michigan State a 64-59 lead.
“I was standing right next to him and I told him to shoot it before he caught it,” Izzo recalled. “He went straight up and straight down and it was as picture perfect as you can get.”
The Big Ten Tournament begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, where first-seeded Michigan may meet Michigan State for a third time.
Iowa 77, Wisconsin 73
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was Senior Day, but Luka Garza didn’t know he was going to have to give a speech.
The Iowa center also didn’t know what else was coming in the postgame ceremony.
Minutes after the 6-foot-11 star scored 21 points and had 16 rebounds to lead the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes over No. 25 Wisconsin 77-73 Sunday, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta announced Garza’s jersey No. 55 would be retired after the season.
It’s why coach Fran McCaffery pulled Garza aside to tell him in advance about the announcement.
Garza began crying.
“He did not know that was going to happen,” McCaffery said. “And I knew Mr. Barta was going to ask him to speak. So I wanted him to kind of give him an opportunity to collect his thoughts.”
Garza delivered, again.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect it at all,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was a plan. Coach telling me that was a surreal feeling. That moment will be something I remember forever. Time slowed down. It was a real honor.”
Garza is Iowa’s all-time leading career scorer with 2,201 points. He leads the Big Ten in scoring this season and ranks third in the country.
This was Garza’s 12th double-double of the season and 33rd for his career.