EAST LANSING — Michigan State basketball is heading to Indianapolis.
Yes, that much was known before Sunday, with the Big Ten tournament starting Wednesday. But the Spartans all but solidified a long-term stay for the week beyond.
Rocket Watts and Joey Hauser emerged from a season-long slump to combine for 32 points, and MSU rebounded from Thursday’s blowout loss to No. 2 Michigan with a 70-64 upset at Breslin Center.
The victory — the Spartans’ third over a top-5 opponent in the past 13 days — all but secures Tom Izzo’s 23rd consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. MSU (15-11, 9-11 Big Ten) will open Big Ten tournament play at 11:30 a.m. Thursday as the 9 seed against 8-seeded Maryland or Rutgers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The winner will face the top-seeded Wolverines at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Watts’ 21 points were his most since scoring 23 against Detroit on Dec. 4 and just his third double-digit scoring game in MSU’s last 21. The sophomore hit eight of his 16 shots with four rebounds and four assists.
Aaron Henry scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half as the Spartans held on late.
The regular-season champion Wolverines (19-3, 14-3) cut it to two points on Hunter Dickinson’s three-point play with 1:13 to play on Joshua Langford’s fourth foul after the MSU senior turned the ball over egregiously at the other end.
But Langford, in what could be his final game at MSU, responded with a 3-pointer with 48.9 seconds to play to answer the shot.
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Chaundee Brown scored 13 points to lead Michigan, while Dickinson had 12 points and seven rebounds. Mike Smith added 11 points and seven assists, and Franz Wagner scored eight of his 10 in the second half, including two 3-pointers in the final 3:21 to help the Wolverines stay close.
Gabe Brown wrapped up the upset with two rebounds and four free throws in the final 36.7 seconds.
The Spartans won five of their final seven games over a 15-day stretch to end the season, including top-five wins over Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois.
The Spartans looked like a much different team than the one that showed blips of consistency before getting blown out 69-50 on Thursday in Ann Arbor.
They attacked the boards early, with Izzo rotating Julius Marble II, Marcus Bingham Jr. and Mady Sissoko on 7-foot-1 Hunter Dickinson. The U-M freshman managed just three points and three rebounds in the first half, also picking up a pair of fouls in his 13 minutes.
MSU’s trio of big men bodied him up and forced Dickinson into uncomfortable shooting angles to lead a defensive effort that held the Wovlerines to 10-for-28 shooting, with the guards limiting Michigan to 3-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc.
The hustle plays that were missing Thursday also returned Sunday, with scrappy defense and gang-rebounding that led to a 22-15 MSU edge on the boards through the first half.
But the biggest development was the inspired play by Watts and Hauser off the bench. Izzo has tried to get production from the pair in a season filled with struggles. Watts in particular was vilified by Izzo after failing to dive for a loose ball early in the second half Thursday, which led to a 25-4 U-M knockout run and earned him a seat on the bench for the final 17:01.
This time, the 6-2 guard looked focused upon entering around the 4-minute mark. His driving floater followed a pair of buckets by Hauser in a 7-0 run shortly after both checked in, and both continued to attack the basket throughout the first half.
The duo combined for all of the Spartans’ points in a 13-6 run late in the half, and Henry’s driving layup into Michigan’s zone with 18 seconds left sent MSU into halftime leading, 30-26. Watts (11) and Hauser (nine) had two-thirds of the Spartans’ points, and they also had six rebounds combined.