Dan MurphyESPN Writer4 minute read
ANN ARBOR, Michigan — In its first game since a campus shooting claimed the lives of three students earlier this week, Michigan State fell just short of a win over its arch-rival on Saturday night in an effort that , according to head coach Tom Izzo, was intended to help students and alumni briefly escape the reality of a tragic week for the school.
“We played the game with a lot of people in East Lansing and around the world who are Michigan State alumni who get away for two hours,” Izzo said after Michigan’s 84-72 victory. “I thought most of the time we did our part. They just did it a little bit better.”
The Spartans received a warm welcome on campus from their enemy in the state before the denunciation. The Michigan team and its student section wore special shirts to show their support for Michigan State, and fans greeted the visitors with a standing ovation as they entered the field to warm up.
Both teams observed a long moment of silence in an arena bathed in green light before the Michigan Cheer Band played Michigan State’s alma mater as the students waved a “Spartan Strong” flag. Student government leaders from both schools also met mid-term as a show of solidarity. Izzo cried as he stood with his team in ‘Spartan Strong’ t-shirts during the pre-game ceremony.
“To see all of their fans and the green lights, the moment of silence. It was really tough,” forward Joey Hauser said. “You think so much about the families that were affected and the people that were there. It was really difficult.”
Second-year goaltender Jaden Akins said emotions peaked before the national anthem.
“It was a really nice gesture what they did,” Akins said. “The whole state came together for this game.”
Michigan scored the final 12 points in what was a hard-fought game over the first 38 minutes to retire for an 84-72 victory. Izzo said he told his team on Saturday afternoon that he didn’t plan to train them any differently than a normal week once the game started. He said the team made too many small mistakes and missed an opportunity.
“You want this to be a storybook ending, you know? he said.
Earlier in the week, Izzo said he hoped the game would be a chance to get back to normal for his players and an opportunity for a community to heal together. He said the messages of support he received from many other coaches, including Michigan’s Juwan Howard, helped him through one of the darkest periods of his 28-year head coaching career at East Lansing.
On Monday, a 43-year-old gunman not associated with the university killed three students and shot dead five others who remain in hospital. The shooter committed suicide after being approached by police later that night.
Michigan State shut down all campus activities for 48 hours following the shooting, including the postponement of all sporting events. The Spartans skipped a trip to Minnesota earlier this week. The team practiced all week after meeting at Izzo’s house on Tuesday morning. Izzo said the team isn’t considering skipping Saturday’s game because they hope playing again will be a way forward for themselves and others in the community.
“Everyone feels a little different, basketball was just an outlet,” Hauser said. “It was a way to get away from that, to not forget about it, but I think that’s what we wanted the most to just be around each other.”
The women’s basketball team also returned to action on Saturday, hosting Maryland in a Saturday afternoon loss. Several other Spartans sports teams returned to play this weekend. Classes are expected to resume on Monday.