Detroit's new downtown sports venue — where empty seats at Red Wings and Pistons games have limited the buzz so far — was a pulsating home for a college basketball doubleheader Saturday, and No. 2 Michigan State capped the all-local event with an 86-73 victory over upset-minded Oakland.
Michigan beat Detroit Mercy 90-58 in the opener , but the atmosphere really picked up after Oakland took the lead in the second half against Izzo's Spartans. Michigan State finally went on a 12-2 run late in the game to pull away.
"We took some punches," Izzo said. "They hit some shots in a row, guys, and the place started getting into it. That's where I thank our fans, because we had more of them, and they rose up and we hit a couple of those 3s. It changed."
Kendrick Nunn scored 32 points for the Golden Grizzlies, who stayed right with the talented Spartans (10-1) until the final minutes. Michigan State improved to 16-0 against Oakland, but only after the type of test the Spartans can expect again from underdogs down the road.
Nick Ward had 15 points and 15 rebounds for Michigan State, which finished with a 45-30 edge on the boards and made enough outside shots to keep Oakland (6-5) at bay. It was tied at 66 before the decisive run by the Spartans, which included two 3-pointers by Winston.
Kenny Goins had eight rebounds and seven assists for Michigan State.
"Nick and Kenny were huge," Winston said. "They cleaned it up."
Michigan State led 38-33 at halftime, but it was clear early in the second half that this would be no easy win for the Spartans. Oakland's Martez Walker had two four-point plays in the first few minutes of the half. The second one put Oakland up 52-49 with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Michigan State kept scoring, however. Winston finished with 19 points, Joshua Langford scored 17 and Miles Bridges had 11. Jaren Jackson Jr. added 10.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe didn't want to hear about any moral victory for his team.
"I am not happy," he said. "We should have won the game. Oakland should have won this game."
Michigan State: The Spartans turned the ball over 17 times but were able to close off the perimeter at the very end, finally containing Nunn. It was a win that bodes well for Michigan State's ability to stave off potential upsets in the future.
Kampe showed up to the news conference room at the end of Izzo's postgame session with reporters, and the two coaches shared the stage for a bit — including the following good-natured exchange:
Kampe: "We got beat by the best team in the country, with the best coach in the country, today. There's no question about that."
Izzo: "I don't believe that, I'll tell you that, and I've got a lot of parents that don't believe that too."
Kampe: "Send them to me."
Nunn's status was in question leading up to the game because of an ankle issue. Kampe said there was concern that Nunn could be out for the season, but a second opinion indicated it was just tendinitis that can be managed.
"I was pretty relieved just to know that I couldn't damage it anymore," Nunn said.
Little Caesars Arena is hosting the first two rounds of this season's NCAA Tournament, and if all goes well for the Spartans, they'll be playing close to home in the venue.
"This is so cool for Detroit," Izzo said. "It's just starting to feel like a city that's coming back to life, and if we can be a little part of it today and we can be a big part of it in March, no one will be more excited about it than me."
Michigan State: Winners of nine straight, the Spartans probably won't be challenged too much Monday night when they host Houston Baptist.