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With a lot of grit, Michigan leaves East Lansing as victors

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It wasn’t the cleanest game, but the Wolverines got the job done when it counted down the stretch to top the Spartans on their home floor.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

With only one chance to win against Michigan State this season, Michigan had the lead with under four minutes to go, something it struggled with so far this season.

The difference today? They were the ones closing the game with free throws against a top-five opponent.

U-M (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) defeated MSU (16-3, 4-2) by a final score of 82-72, winning its first road game of the season against a ranked team.

Wolverine head coach John Beilein said it is “really good” to get a win over a tremendous team like MSU.

“They have a Hall of Fame coaching staff and in the first half they put on a highlight show, but I think it says a lot about us getting the win,” Beilein said. “There are a lot of ways to win a game and I think we caught them on a bad night in the second half and some things for them weren’t clicking and we found a way.”

With the win, the Wolverines move into a tie at third place with the Spartans in the Big Ten Conference standings.

Summary

The game would get off to a solid start for U-M with a pair of triples from Zavier Simpson and Moritz Wagner, giving the Wolverines an early 9-4 lead.

The Spartans would come back though, taking the lead back at 14-13 with a Jaren Jackson Jr. dunk that posterized Jon Teske and got the crowd up on their feet for awhile.

Michigan didn’t let that noise level get in their heads and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman sunk a 3-pointer and Charles Matthews got a layup to give the Wolverines a 23-18 lead with 8:48 to play in the half.

Duncan Robinson, who was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Isaiah Livers, would check in and hit a triple. Cassius Winston answered right back.

It was indicative of how the first half was played, with MSU clinging to a 37-34 advantage at halftime.

Wagner (11 points) and Simpson (10 points) led the Wolverines in scoring at the break. Bridges and Winston each had nine apiece to lead the Spartans.

The Spartans shot 57 percent from the field in the opening half, but U-M was 42 percent (5-of-12) from deep and forced the Spartans into eight turnovers to stay in the game. Michigan had 17 points off of turnovers.

In the second half, the Wolverines didn’t back off.

A Livers slam capped off a 6-0 run that gave U-M a 42-39 lead and really started to make this game feel like it would be close down to the wire.

The game would prove to play out that way with the teams trading blows until the final four minutes when U-M held a 67-61 lead at the final media timeout.

From there, Wagner would continue his unbelievable second half with a fade-away jumper that got nothing but net and a Charles Matthews two-handed jam to put an exclamation point on the Wolverines win.

Wagner said in order to beat MSU, you have to show some grit and he believed that his team did just that today.

“We are a very determined and special group that can really play,” Wagner said. “When we play within ourselves we can beat anybody in the country and that showed today.”

The German guard put on a clinic, scoring 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He also went 8-of-8 from the free throw line and 3-of-4 from 3-point distance.

“I made a few big shots and it’s kind of cool when the crowd is all pumped up and you hit a shot that just silences it all, slap the floor,” Wagner said. “You can sense it as a player and it was fun.”

Simpson, who had 16 points to go along with four rebounds and five assists, said he doesn’t let other teams size affect him.

“If (Jackson) blocks it, he blocks it, you can’t think about that,” Simpson said. “You just go up strong and be mentally tough and luckily I was able to finish a few layups.”

The Wolverines shot 42 percent from the floor and 40 percent (6-of-15) from deep for the game. The Spartans themselves shot 47 percent from the field but just 25 percent (3-of-12) from beyond the arc.

The Wolverines will now head back to the Crisler Center for a quick turnaround game on Monday, Jan. 15, at 6:30 p.m. against Maryland.

“We embrace the win because we were able to get a victory against an outstanding team,” Beilein said. “But now we have to turn around and be ready for Maryland like right away.”

Game notes

  • This was U-M’s first win over the Spartans at the Breslin Center since 2014. It was the third time Beilein has won on MSU’s home court.
  • Both teams shot a lot of free throws and made a majority of them. MSU went 27-of-33 and U-M went 28-of-35 from the charity stripe.
  • MSU only out-rebounded the U-M by one (32-31) and turned the ball over 18 times which led to 26 Wolverine points.
  • The Spartans had a whopping eight blocks, but U-M countered by grabbing 11 offensive boards and allowing just eight to MSU.
  • U-M held MSU forward Nick Ward to just four points. Coming into the game, he averaged 14.8 points per game.