If you want to win your best games, you need your best player to show up. Facing their biggest rival in front of 11,068 people, Naz Hillmon showed up, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 boards. Michigan defeated Michigan State 89-69, after a hard-fought game became a fourth-quarter beating.
While Michigan led most of the way, the Spartans were within striking distance for the entirety of the second and third quarters. The game started out somewhat ugly, with the teams combining for 31.5% shooting in the first five minutes. Despite the poor shooting, Michigan was doing a good job limiting other turnovers, committing just two in the first. Michigan took a 12-10 lead with 3:33 to play. The Wolverines would never trail again.
Though they never quite broke through and took the lead, the Spartans forced Michigan into bad shots and seemed to have answers whenever Michigan threatened to really pull away. In the middle two quarters, 18:16 were spent with Michigan possessing a lead of 6 or less. The first time Michigan threatened to go up 8, Amy Dilk missed two FTs and Taryn McCutcheon hit a three-pointer on the other end to cut the lead to 4.
Dilk would do more than redeem her free throw woes; after the Spartans cut it to just 1 with under a minute to play in the third, Dilk hit a big three to make it a two possession game again at the final quarter break. Dilk would end the game leading all scorers with 23 points. Through three each team was hitting 53% of their shots. Michigan had gone 11-12 in the third and was still doing a better job limiting turnovers, but needed the final punch.
In the fourth quarter, they got it. The defense was stifling, and Michigan continued its hot shooting. Michigan started the fourth on a 13 point run that took 5:03 off the clock. By the MSU got two free throws to end the run, Michigan was up 15 and had the game comfortably in hand. Michigan had done a great job forcing bad shots. Akienreh Johnson opened the quarter with a three and picked up two critical boards. Hailey Brown added a block. Hillmon got the missing rebounds for her double-double. With twelve seconds left Emily Kiser pushed the lead to 20 with a three. Michigan had held MSU to just 10 points in the quarter on 3-14 shooting.
Michigan State is the third best team the Wolverines have played, per HerHoopStats rating. In my opinion, this game supplants the Syracuse comeback as their most impressive win of the season. Michigan needed to find an extra gear to beat a rival that has had their number- Michigan began today at just 4-11 in the Kim Barnes-Arico era- and they dominated the endgame. Hillmon and Dilk stepped up to score 20 each, Johnson joined them in cleaning up the glass, Hailey Brown was 3-5 from three and got the scoring started.
Michigan might return to the rankings next week, but a win next Sunday at home against #12 Maryland would guarantee it. Before that they’ll heat to Columbus for a Thursday night matchup. Michigan can maintain double-bye pace by going 1-1, but 2-0 and they’d be the hottest team in the conference, going into a softer portion of the Big Ten schedule.