ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In its first game since a campus shooting claimed the lives of three students earlier this week, Michigan State fell just shy of a win against its rival Saturday night in an effort that head coach Tom Izzo said was aimed at helping students and alumni briefly escape the reality of a tragic week for the school.
“We played the game many people back in East Lansing and around the world that are Michigan State alums escaped for two hours,” Izzo said after Michigan’s 84-72 win. “I thought for the most part we did our part. They just did it a little better.”
The Spartans received a warm welcome to the campus of their in-state foe prior to tip-off. Michigan’s team and its student section wore special shirts to show support for Michigan State, and fans greeted the visitors with a standing ovation when they took the court to warm up.
Both teams observed a lengthy moment of silence in an arena bathed in green light before the Michigan pep band played Michigan State’s alma mater while students held up a “Spartan Strong” flag. The heads of both schools’ student government also met at midcourt in a show of solidarity. Izzo teared up while standing with his team in “Spartan Strong” T-shirts during the pre-game ceremony.
— Michigan State Men’s Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) February 19, 2023
“Seeing all their fans and the green lights, the moment of silence. It was definitely tough,” senior forward Joey Hauser said. “You think so much about the families that were affected and the people that were there. That was definitely tough.”
Sophomore guard Jaden Akins said emotions peaked in the lead-up to 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 of what was a tightly contested game for the first 38 minutes to pull away for an 84-72 win. Izzo said he told his team Saturday afternoon that he didn’t plan to coach them differently from a normal week once the game began. He said the team made too many small mistakes and let an opportunity slip away.
“You want it to be a storybook ending, you know?” he said.
Earlier in the week, Izzo said that he hoped the game would serve as a chance to return to normalcy for his players and an opportunity for a community to heal together. He said the messages of support he received from many fellow coaches, including Michigan’s Juwan Howard, helped during one of the darkest stretches of his 28-year head-coaching career in East Lansing.
On Monday, a 43-year-old gunman unassociated with the university killed three students and shot five others who remain in the hospital. The gunman took his own life after he was approached by the police later that night.
Michigan State shut down all campus activities for 48 hours in the wake of the shooting, including postponing all sporting events. The Spartans skipped a trip to Minnesota earlier this week. The team practiced throughout the week after meeting at Izzo’s home Tuesday morning. Izzo said that the team did not consider skipping Saturday’s game because they hoped playing again would provide a way to move forward for themselves and for others in the community.
“Everybody feels a little bit different, basketball was just an outlet,” Hauser said. “It was a way to get away from it, not forget it, but definitely I think just being around each other is what we wanted the most out of it.”
The women’s basketball team also returned to action Saturday, hosting Maryland in a loss Saturday afternoon. Several other Spartans’ sports teams returned to play this weekend. Classes are scheduled to resume on Monday.