With a week between Michigan's loss against Wisconsin and today's matchup against the Spartans, the Wolverines had plenty of time to think about what would (likely) be a conference-deciding tilt.
The energy was clearly there in the early stages of the game, but, as against the Badgers, Michigan once again fell behind early. After grabbing an early 4-2 lead, the Wolverines allowed the Spartans to rip off a 7-0 run; by the second media timeout, Michigan State led 19-11, powered by Denzel Valentine's eight early points on 3-for-4 shooting.
Michigan had no answers for the rival Spartans--Michigan State shot 69 percent from the field through the first 10 minutes. John Beilein threw the 1-3-1 at MSU out of a timeout, resulting in a Keith Appling charge call.
Shortly thereafter, Michigan (and the Crisler Center) came alive. Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht buried triples on back-to-back possessions, then Zak Irvin slammed one down on a breakaway following a Spartan turnover. Just like that, the deficit was back down to three.
A Travis Trice triple (say that five times fast) finally ended Michigan's 10-0 romp, but the Wolverines' had regained their confidence. At the very least, Michigan didn't allow things to go from bad to worse, like they did against the visiting Badgers last week.
The Spartans built the lead back up to seven, but Michigan didn't fold. LeVert buried a corner triple to beat the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the half down just 36-34.
LeVert scored 14 of Michigan's 34 first-half points--the sophomore kept Michigan in the game, but the Wolverines would need more from Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Stauskas attempted just three shots in the first half (made two). Teams have found a way to limit Stauskas's attempts (and even his catches, period) in recent weeks, but the second half would have to be about simply finding a way to get it done, no matter what defense the Spartans threw out there against Michigan's Mississaugan.
And that's what he did, shooting over the shorter Keith Appling on numerous occasions en route to 12 points in the second half's first eight minutes. Michigan gained a 50-48 edge after an all-Stauskas 7-0 run.
Of course, the Wolverines couldn't rest there, especially not against an MSU team that had had success from beyond the arc all game.
The Wolverines certainly didn't rest, as Nik Stauskas continued to pour it in from all over the floor. After scoring just four in the first half, Stauskas tallied 19 in the second half's first 11 minutes.
Once again, Michigan threw the 1-3-1 at the Spartans and it yielded positive results. After Appling missed a shot at the rim, Michigan pushed the ball, eventually finding a wide open LeVert in the corner. He had enough time to think about shooting, realize there was no one in green in the same zip code and drive to the rim for an essentially uncontested slam. The Crisler Center crowd noise jumped to 11, the loudest I've heard it in a long time.
With the Michigan lead at 12, the Wolverines had to close out like big time teams with conference hardware on the line.
The Wolverines looked to burn some clock, up nine with under three minutes to play. Stauskas received the ball on the left wing, drove middle and lobbed a pass to, who else, Robinson III. GRIII sent home a cathartic slam. All things considered, it was a solid performance for the sophomore; despite struggling from beyond the arc, GRIII was aggressive and efficient from two-point land.
The Spartans couldn't string together enough buckets late to put a serious scare into the Wolverines. Michigan ran out the final seconds, landing a crucial 79-70 victory.
Rivalry wins are always big, but this one meant a little more, what with the Big Ten title likely being decided--or significantly influenced, if you feel more comfortable saying it that way--by today's outcome. The Wolverines now sit at 11-3 in the conference, a half game ahead of the Spartans.
If the Wolverines take care of business the rest of the way against a very manageable schedule (at Purdue, Minnesota, at Illinois, Indiana), the Wolverines will bring home their second Big Ten title in three years, something that seemed very unlikely during the doldrums of November and December.
If you told me 10 years ago that the Wolverines would pull off a run like this against the Spartans while doing as poorly as they have against them on the gridiron, I probably would have called you crazy. Well, here we are.