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Michigan State learned over the past two games that being the conference favorite comes with a price. The Spartans know they’ll pay a hefty one if they continue to have lapses against their biggest rival. They lost their No. 1 ranking on Sunday by getting blown out by unranked Ohio State, then barely survived at home against unheralded Rutgers on Wednesday before pulling out a 76-72 overtime victory.
The fourth-ranked Spartans now host Michigan on Saturday afternoon in their only regular-season matchup this season. “We have to play tough. They are a tough team,” Spartans sophomore forward Miles Bridges said. “They are playing well too, so we just have to bring it and if we don’t, we are going to have a loss on our home court and we don’t want that.”
When you play only once in the Big Ten, you really want to bear down and get that win, because you don’t see them again,” said Nairn, now a senior entering what could be his last rivalry game. “Those wins are so significant. And this one is significant.”
“There’s one game this year, so you have to put up one fight,” Michigan sophomore guard Zavier Simpson said Friday. “Just bring it all in (Saturday’s) game and if we do our job I think we’ll be fine.”
Simpson got introduced to the rivalry last season, with games both at Breslin Center and at Crisler Center. MSU ground out a 70-62 win at home in the first one by holding the Wolverines without a field goal over the final 6-plus minutes. Nine days later in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines used a 32-10 run to close the first half en route to an 86-57 blowout over the young but embarrassed Spartans.