Rocket Watts scored 21 points and Aaron Henry had 18 to lead Michigan State to a 70-64 victory over No. 2 Michigan on Sunday that seems to seal coach Tom Izzo’s 23rd consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
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 during the late-season surge.
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The Wolverines (19-3, 14-3) closed the regular season getting routed at home by the Fighting Illini, beating Michigan State handily to seal 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. Brooks ranks fourth on the team with eight-plus points per game, averages nearly three assists a game and has started 51 games over two seasons.
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.
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.
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Michigan: Brooks had a protective boot on his left leg as he watched the second half. If he is out for an extended period of time, that hurts the team’s national championship hopes.
Michigan State: The NCAA Tournament will likely include the Spartans, whose spot in college basketball’s showcase was in doubt last month when they lost four straight and were reeling from a COVID-19 outbreak.
Michigan will likely slip a little in the Top 25 with the setback and potential loss of Brooks.
The Big Ten Tournament begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, where Michigan may meet Michigan State for a third time.