The scene was incongruous, and yet it fit the moment. At Michigan basketball’s home ground, a wisp of green lit up the lower bowl and court at its base. The Michigan state primary color covered the Crisler Center, the Spartans’ ceremonial alma mater trilled, and a corn-clad crowd stood in silence.
It was a rival’s somber tribute to a university beset by tragedy last Monday when a gunman opened fire on East Lansing’s sprawling campus, turning an entire community upside down.
Three MSU students – Arielle Anderson, Alexandria Verner and Brian Fraser – were killed. Five others were injured. Countless others were affected and traumatized by the terror.
The aftershocks echoed well beyond Ingham County. They were felt in Ann Arbor, where UM hosted the MSU basketball team in the Spartans’ first game since the horrors of a killing spree near the banks of the Red Cedar River.
“You just have to find a way to honor the people who have been senselessly killed,” said Spartans coach Tom Izzo on Thursday. “And yet our way of doing it is to play.”
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Izzo’s comments came about 24 hours after the Spartans were scheduled to face Minnesota at the Breslin Center. That game was postponed and all athletic competitions were moved to Friday as MSU began the healing process.
That set the stage for Saturday, where two rivals crossed their arms and mourned the loss of life. Michigan’s student section raised a green banner with the words “Spartan Strong,” the rallying cry that has become an oft-repeated refrain in the heartbreaking episodes. Izzo and his assistants wore t-shirts with the same message. Before the game, UM’s players donned custom-made clothing that read “Michigan Basketball Stands with MSU.”
And as the Spartans entered the warm-up court, the Michigan fans stood and applauded.
The unity demonstration came 16 Saturdays after one of the darkest chapters in this rivalry opened last fall. Just inside the northwest entrance of the Crisler Center, in the tunnel of the adjacent football stadium, a group of Michigan State players besieged two Michigan defenders after the Wolverines defeated the Spartans 29-7 on October 29.
The riot, part of which was captured on video, made national headlines. Eight members of the MSU soccer team were immediately suspended, and seven of them were later charged by the Washtenaw County Attorney’s Office. The Big Ten reprimanded Michigan and fined the state of Michigan $100,000 after the incident. The ugly episode ignited the heated feud between the schools and spread to message boards and social media.
But on Saturday, MSU and UM stood together to mourn the victims of a tragedy that struck too close to home. The coaching staff greeted each other with hugs.
Michigan fans held signs in support of Michigan State.
“This is not easy, it is a difficult issue that we are all dealing with and I say all of us because our hearts go out to the Michigan State family and more importantly our condolences to the families of the lost.” , said Michigan coach Juwan Howard Friday: “Here you don’t think about the sport, but about people.”
Contact Rainer Sabin: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin.