Michigan State is playing at a high level at just the right time, and capped off the Big Ten Tournament with a 69-55 pounding of Michigan at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last Sunday.

For their work the Spartans (26-8) were given the No. 4 seed in the East Regional and will meet No. 13 Delaware in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

In an earlier game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, St. Joseph’s claimed the Atlantic 10 tourney with a 65-61 victory over Virginia Commonwealth behind senior guard Langston Galloway’s 19 points, senior forward Ronald Roberts Jr.’s 15 points, senior forward Halil Kanacevic’s 11 points, are the No. 10 seed in the East Regional and will tangle with No. 7 Connecticut.

The Spartans played like world-beaters over the three-game run including the rout versus the Wolverines as they led, 38-29, at the half after a slam by sophomore guard Gary Harris (15 points).

“When you defend you get run-outs,’’ said Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo, who directed the Spartans to the title in 2000 and was the runner-up in 2009. “We’re getting better.”

Michigan State’s 44-29 lead with 17:10 left came after senior center Adreian Payne (18 points with nine rebounds) dunked and junior swingman Branden Dawson (15 points with six boards) scored. It became 52-38 with 11:03 showing on Payne’s flush.

The Spartans and Wolverines (25-8) then divided eight points as it became 58-46 with 3:54 left, and when Michigan freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. (11 points with four caroms) added two free throws the lead was sliced to 10 points, but Payne’s three-pointer made it 62-50.

Dawson’s five-footer with 15:15 remaining lowered Michigan’s lead to 9-6, but the Spartans went on a 11-0 run that was punctuated after Harris stole the ball at midcourt, put in a layup, was fouled and added a free throw to make it 17-9 with 11:51 showing.

When sophomore shooting guard Caris LeVert (seven points) drilled a pair from the charity line, Michigan trailed 27-20 with 7:59 left, but a hoop from senior guard Keith Appling (seven points) with 4:39 on the clock pushed the Spartans ahead, 35-24.

Galloway and Kanacevic each toiled 40 minutes and Kanacevic was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player after grabbing a record 43 rebounds across three games.

“They [teammates]helped me a lot,’’ said Kanacevic, who had 14 rebounds against the Rams (26-8). “We had a lot of turnovers in the first half (eight), but we cut that down in the second half.”

The Hawks (24-9) were ahead 11-4 with 13:42 left after Kanacevic’s pass to Roberts (11 rebounds) who dunked, then led 17-13 with 7:51 left, and took a 28-24 lead into the break.

The Rams grabbed a 43-40 advantage with 12:37 left in the second half, but Kanacevic’s five-footer tied it at 48-48 with 7:27 on the clock.

When Galloway converted a three-pointer and Roberts added a jam, the Hawks (12 turnovers) pulled ahead 59-54 with 1:28 left.

Let the madness begin.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at mailto:richsports5@sbcglobal.net

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