Nick Baumgardner Detroit Free Press
Published 4:39 PM EDT Mar 17, 2019
CHICAGO — One down, one to go.
Michigan basketball went into the locker room with a 31-23 lead over rival Michigan State with a conference tournament title on the line.
First half observations from the Big Ten tournament final:
Teske and Tillman
U-M, like the last two times these two met, had trouble early getting any clean looks with Michigan State big man Xavier Tillman switching screens.
But unlike last time, Tillman spent 14 first-half minutes on the bench with two fouls. And Jon Teske took advantage.
Teske is quicker and more athletic than both Nick Ward and Thomas Kithier. He was able to get to the basket, impact shots on the defensive end and rebound. He sparked an 8-0 run by diving on the floor for a loose ball at a time when MSU appeared to be in control.
Tillman’s a difference-maker for MSU, in every way. The Spartans play their best when he’s on the floor. Michigan knows that.
And when he went out, the Wolverines took complete advantage every time they could. A huge difference in the first half.
Michigan has looked a lot like Michigan on defense throughout the first half here, much better than either of the first two meetings.
Cassius Winston has just three points on four shot attempts. Credit Zavier Simpson for that. Also credit Charles Matthews, who continues to make U-M the best version of itself defensively with his presence on the floor.
Winston isn’t getting many clean looks at the rim. He’s not torching U-M off ball screens.
Then again, when Tillman’s not in the game, everything changes for MSU.
Brazdeikis is feeling it
Ignas Brazdeikis hit his first four shots, three of them from deep, and has been in control throughout the first half for Michigan — who shot 45.8 percent from the floor overall.
The big difference this time for Brazdeikis, of course, is foul trouble. He hasn’t had any.
Michigan was a little tentative early, but kept itself in the game mentally despite a quick start by Michigan State.
Michigan swung back. As a result, the Wolverines are up eight.
Respect for Ahrens
The entire building, Michigan and Michigan State fans, gave Kyle Ahrens a standing ovation when he was carted off the floor with his ankle in an air cast midway through the first half.
It was an emotional scene from MSU’s bench, as Ahrens has fought major back problems to give MSU minutes off the bench. He’s spent most of his breaks during the Big Ten tournament on the exercise bike or doing back stretches on the sideline.
The crowd recognized his effort on Sunday, even in a difficult moment.
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