With the regular season title looking to be out of reach, the Wolverines hit the Crisler Center floor for a rematch with the Spartans, who handed Michigan its worst loss of the season on Feb. 12. Michigan never held the lead at Breslin, but their start this time around was a bit more auspicious.
The Wolverines jumped out to an 8-7 lead a few minutes in, all on baskets in the painted area, including two spectacular finishes at the rim from Trey Burke. After the first two possessions, in which Adreian Payne hit Michigan with a three and Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a questionable three from the top of the key, seeing Michigan have some success in transition and attacking the basket in the half court was a sight for sore eyes.
Unfortunately, the defense continued to be poor, a couple forced turnovers notwithstanding. Michigan once again got beat hard hedging on the pick and roll and the Spartans picked up a pair of offensive rebounds early on in the proceedings. In less than five minutes of play, Payne was 3/4 from the field with eight points, including two treys.
The pace was frenetic early on, with both teams struggling in their transition defense. However, Michigan's half court D was full of energy, and the Wolverines picked up another steal on a post feed that led to a Caris LeVert dunk going the other way. At about the 13:00 mark, Michigan led 14-6 in points in the paint.
On the defensive end, Michigan suffered a couple of unfortunate bounces on rebounding situations. On one set, multiple Wolverines couldn't quite corral a miss, and the ball somehow landed in Adreian Payne's hands in front of the rim, leading to Payne upping his point total to 10 at just the 11:34 mark with a rim-shaking thunderdunk.
Regardless, it was difficult to be unhappy with the action thus far, especially compared to the last matchup between these two teams, in which the Wolverines looked decidedly overwhelmed in a hostile environment.
A 6-0 Spartan run gave them a 24-20 lead, capped by a transition putback from Keith Appling after THJ was stripped trying to jump stop into the lane. Still, I can live with this; watching Michigan attack and get out in transition was a joy to watch, no matter what Michigan's reputation as a "slow" team (according to the possessions per game stat) may say. Michigan's best offense in this one was picking up a miss and pushing the ball with pace.
On the not so bright side, Michigan lost Nik Stauskas early after he got smacked in the face a few minutes into the game. He eventually returned to the bench with 12 stitches on his face, but his return was deemed questionable, a tough loss for Michigan even with his recent struggles from the field.
The Spartans were shooting just 39% from the field, but eight offensive rebounds and a 5/10 mark from three heading into the final tv timeout of the first half afforded them a slim three-point lead. All things considered, despite getting killed on the glass and failing to keep tabs on MSU's three-point shooters, the Wolverines were doing fairly well. At minimum, this was not a game that was effectively over by halftime, as it was the first time around.
Rebounding notwithstanding, Michigan's defense was actually much better than it has been (which I know isn't saying much), but several ridiculous bounces, in which Michigan couldn't get their hands on a loose ball after 25+ seconds of strong D, happened with unfortunate regularity. Still, especially late in the half, Jordan Morgan played some stalwart post D on Derrick Nix, showing exactly what Michigan had been missing throughout his absence.
A beautiful Caris LeVert finish in transition closed out the scoring in the first frame, and the Wolverines went into the half down 31-28.
Two Morgan baskets early gave Michigan a 32-31 edge, as Michigan also took two charges on the defensive end and Caris LeVert skied to snag a loose ball like Braylon Edwards circa 2004, drawing Gary Harris' third foul less than two minutes into the second half.
A McGary dunk off of a Burke dish gave Michigan its biggest lead of the game, and MSU picked up its third offensive charging call on the ensuing possession. Things were turning up Milhouse.
The crowd was into it despite the students being on break, and it seemed that Michigan was getting the calls that it wasn't getting in East Lansing (not that officiating was the difference in that one, of course). Either way, holding the Spartans scoreless until the first media timeout was a welcomed change of pace for a Wolverine D that has been somewhat of a sieve in recent weeks.
Michigan continued to play without Stauskas, but Caris LeVert was a more than adequate substitute, even if his stat line doesn't quite show it. He picked up his fifth and sixth points on a nifty bit of maneuvering into a mid-range floater early on in the half to give Michigan a 36-31 lead. Of course, his defense is, to put it nicely, an enormous upgrade over what Stauskas brings to the floor.
The chargefest continued, with MSU picking up yet another one at the 11:16 mark; this one was Payne's third foul of the game. Going back to the end of the first half, Michigan was on a 16-4 run. McGary turned up his CRUNK levels, pitching in a fadeaway jumper to extend the lead to seven. He was 4/6 for nine points 30 minutes into today's contest, another positive change from the first meeting between these two squads.
However, Burke went cold to start the half, going 0/5 in its first 11 minutes. A pair of layups from Nix and Appling cut the lead back down to three; a chance to really blow the game open was momentarily squandered, but Michigan was still in a good place.
Burke finally scored on a drive from the left side, but Dylan of UMHoops made a good point: Burke seemed to crash to the floor on drives to the rim (make or miss), and almost every time it resulted in a transition opportunity for MSU --Appling ended up at the free throw line after this one. I'm not quite sure what else to say about this, but it was a thing that happened several times. /shrugs
Burke went to work again, driving for another finish at the rim. Shortly thereafter, THJ found Glenn Robinson III for an alley oop that blew the roof off and got Michigan to floor slappin'. Blood was in the water, with Michigan up eight with 4:36 to go and Burke on the line for a 1-and-1 (he made both).
Michigan missed an opportunity on a 2-on-1 situation, with Burke electing to keep the ball as GRIII tagged along on the left side. He failed to convert, and MSU finally got a block call at the other end for an and-1 opportunity from Harris. Harris missed, but a bunch of bumbling around eventually led to another and-1 chance from Payne. He missed too, but a lane violation gave him another chance, which he nailed. This was all effectively one big seven-point swing.
To make things worse, Jordan Morgan picked up his fifth foul with 3:22 to go, on what appeared to be a walk by Payne after grabbing a rebound. Just like the Penn State game, things went from great to dicey in the blink of an eye; the Wolverines were now up just three with 3:22 left.
Burke bailed Michigan out again, driving to his left and burying a mid-range jumper to extend the lead to five. He then threaded the needle to McGary on the next possession, resulting in a pair of free throws for CRUNK, both of which he nailed. Michigan could breathe again, but it was far from over.
Once again, Michigan absolutely could not buy a defensive rebound to save its life, and the Spartans cut the lead back down to five. An awkward fadeaway jumper from Burke produced yet another transition opportunity for MSU, leading to a Harris triple from the right wing. In a game of swings, the Spartans were now swinging the needle back in their direction, down just two with 1:53 to go. The next offensive set for the Wolverines out of the Michigan timeout would be crucial.
LeVert clanked an ugly three, but GRIII corraled the board, forcing Beilein to call another timeout to come up with something better with 1:16 to go, allowing him to check McGary back into the game. Unfortunately, the set ended in a disastrous over-and-back call, giving the Spartans a chance to take the lead.
A foul sent Appling to the line to tie with 54.8 seconds to go. He calmly hit the first, then the second. 56-56.
Michigan turned it over on their next possession, with McGary dribbling it out of bounds after receiving the post feed. MSU had the ball and the chance to take the final shot.
Trey Burke had other ideas. Before the Spartans had a chance to even run much clock off at all, let alone get into their offense, Burke stole the ball from Appling and slammed it home at the other end. With 17.7 seconds to go, Michigan was up 58-56. Once again, despite his rough start to the half, Trey Burke saved Michigan when it needed to be saved. If Michigan managed to close it out, that play would undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest singular plays in recent memory.
Nix was fouled diving to the basket, but unlike Appling, he missed the first time he stepped to the line. He made the second, but Michigan was forced to have McGary catch the inbound pass. McGary was 3/4 from the line up to this point. He stepped to the line for a 1-and-1.
He missed. MSU grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 4.9 seconds to go, Michigan leading 58-57.
Then, the Michigan defense came up big one more time. Trey Burke intercepted a pass on the left wing, and the final seconds ticked off the clock. How else could this have ended?
Michigan got destroyed on the boards, left MSU three-point shooters open throughout and didn't hit a single three all game (when was the last time that happened?) and still managed to grab the win. This is why: 21 points, eight assists, four rebounds, five steals, one block and just one turnover.
That was Trey Burke's stat line. When attempting to navigate the labyrinthine layout of college basketball, through all the advanced stats, bracketology, RPI figures, strength of schedules and home-road splits, one tenet remains undeniably true: big time players make big time plays. Burke might as well wear an enormous clock around his neck for the rest of the day like Flavor Flav , because it doesn't get more big time than what Burke did out there today.
Michigan still has issues to sort out, to be sure. Yet, it's comforting to know that Michigan has a player that can step out of the phone booth with an S on his chest and save the day when it needs to be saved.