January 9, 1999
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Mateen Cleaves is a big man on the Michigan State campus. Still, when Magic Johnson called, Cleaves went running.
Nobody is bigger than Magic. Not even after 20 years.
Cleaves got a pregame pep talk from Johnson, then scored 25 points as the 12th-ranked Spartans rolled to an 81-67 win over Michigan on Saturday.
"I was out shooting around and he sent somebody to get me," Cleaves said. "The guy said Earvin wanted to see me immediately. I dropped the ball and went to see what he wanted."
Cleaves was looking to break out of a three-game slump that saw him shoot just 9-of-29 from the floor (27.5 percent). The Magic Man told him to relax.
"He told me to be myself," Cleaves said. "He just told me to go out and be Mateen Cleaves. He told me to just smile and have fun.
"He said the same thing was true with him. He told me when he wasn't smiling and having fun, he wasn't himself."
Josh Asselin scored 17 points for Michigan (8-9, 2-2 Big Ten), which has won only once on the road all season. The Spartans (12-4, 1-1) held Michigan's guard tandem of Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid to 15 and 7 points respectively. The two combined for just 5-of-22 shooting.
"They didn't play very well, but that's going to happen," Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe said. "They're human. That was a big key for us.
"We're to the point now where we've got to be able to play without those guys. We've got to make sure we execute when they're not in the game. They can't score and shoot every shot."
The Wolverines, who never led in the game, closed the gap to 28-27 on Chris Young's basket with 2:56 left in the first half.
But Cleaves had a three-point play, A.J. Granger hit a 3-point shot from the top of the key and Andre Hutson added a basket and two free throws as the Spartans closed the half with a 10-0 run for a 38-27 lead.
"It's great to have our guard back," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Mateen found a way to keep us on balance."
Michigan opened the second half with a 7-2 run, including Reid's only 3-pointer of the game, to get it down to 40-34 in the first 3:02 of the second half. But that's as close as the Wolverines would get.
Cleaves started the Spartans' second-half surge with a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the 3:15 mark and scored 13 points the rest of the way.
"One of the things we talked about in our meetings was we're definitely going to get everybody's best game," Cleaves said. "We know we're going to be attacked. The key for us is that we should be the ones who attack."
Michigan State shot 51.9 percent and had a 37-21 edge in rebounds. The Wolverines, hitting nine of 20 shots in the second half, shot 43.8 percent for the game.
Johnson was on hand because he and the rest of Michigan State's 1979 NCAA championship team were being honored during halftime at Breslin Center.
"I'm so happy I came to Michigan State," Johnson told the cheering crowd of 14,659 fans. "My heart will always be here."
The 1979 team, coached by Jud Heathcote, tied for first in the Big Ten at 13-5 and finished 26-6 overall after knocking off Larry Bird-led Indiana State 75-64 in the national championship game. That game, highlighting Bird's match up with Johnson, still ranks as the highest-rated televised game in NCAA history.
It remains the Spartans' only national basketball title.
"It was a special team at a special time," Heathcote told the crowd.
Another member of that team, Jay Vincent, had his No. 31 jersey retired as part of the celebration.
Vincent, a Lansing native, lettered from 1978-81, playing in 114 games. He closed out his career as the school's No. 3 all-time leading scorer with 1,914 points and was the Big Ten's leading scorer in 1979 and 1980.
The Spartans also honored the 1979 cheerleading squad, which also earned national honors that year.