Spartans Clinch Big Ten Regular Season Crown
February 21, 1999
By HARRY ATKINS
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A big, hand-lettered sign in the Michigan State student section said it all: "Ain't no co-' this year!"
This time, the Spartans have the Big Ten championship all to themselves.
Michigan State clinched the conference regular season crown as Morris Peterson scored 13 points Sunday in a 56-51 win against No. 13 Wisconsin, stretching the Spartans' winning streak to 14 games.
"They're a very good team," Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said. "In a league that's really solid, Michigan State is as worthy a champion as you can have. We made them play half-court and they were good enough to beat us."
It was the first outright title since 1990 for the fourth-ranked Spartans (25-4, 14-1), who were forced to share the conference crown with Illinois after losing the last game of the season to Purdue in 1998.
"This feels good," said Antonio Smith, whose 11 rebounds helped the Spartans to a 39-19 edge on the boards. "We weren't satisfied last year, you know. We had to go out there and accept a trophy after just being beaten."
Not this time.
When the final buzzer sounded, Michigan State players jumped and hugged while hundreds of students in green "Izzone" T-shirts rushed onto the floor at Breslin Center. A metal ladder was setup under the south basket and each player, starting with the three seniors, took turns in cutting down the net.
"I've never been on a championship team in my life," Peterson said. "That emotion was unbelievable. It was just overwhelming to me. And I'm so happy for coach. This was all his plan."
The 14-game winning streak is a modern record (post World War II). The school's overall record for consecutive wins is 15, set in 1930.
"These are my seniors," Spartans' coach Tom Izzo said. "These were the first kids I recruited after I became coach. To them, I will be eternally grateful.
"We got a lot of basketball out of a lot of guys. Maybe not all the time great. But if you want to chase those guys through a lot of picks, you've got to do a lot of work, and that's what I think those guys did."
The win improved the Spartans to 14-0 at Breslin Center, wrapping up their first unbeaten season at home since Magic Johnson led the 1979 team to a 12-0 record at old Jenison Fieldhouse. That also was the last time Michigan State won successive Big Ten titles.
Sean Mason scored 13 points for Wisconsin (21-6, 9-5) and Ty Calderwood made three 3-pointers in the final 1:29 of the game to finish with nine points for the Badgers, the last team to beat Michigan State.
The Spartans led 21-19 at halftime. But with Mateen Cleaves scoring four points and running the fast break, they opened the second half with a 10-0 run and led 48-33 with 5:10 remaining.
"We rattled only a little coming out of the locker room at halftime," Bennett said. "We were unable to demonstrate toughness and poise, and that's a credit to their defense."
Mason, with five points, helped the Badgers narrow it to 48-40 with 3:13 left.
Cleaves made a three-point play with 2:40 left, but Calderwood kept Wisconsin within eight points with the first of his 3s. Charlie Wells made two free throws to close the deficit to 51-45 with 58.3 seconds remaining and Calderwood's second trey made it 53-48 with 14.2 left.
Peterson made three free throws in the final 11.7 and Calderwood hit his final 3-pointer just before the buzzer for the final margin.
The Spartans wore old-time jerseys with "MAC" on the front, a throwback to the school's early roots as Michigan Agricultural College, when the team was known as the Aggies. This is the 100th year of basketball at the school.
"These jerseys are good luck," said Smith, the first player Izzo recruited after succeeding Jud Heathcote. "We won the championship in them, so hopefully we'll keep wearing them."
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