Michigan has won a lot of games this season but the wins have rarely come ugly. The beautiful offense and lopsided score lines look great to pad a resume but the ugly wins are always the most rewarding. John Beilein agreed.
“We’ve had some real pretty wins here, where we did everything right and the ball went in and we just played lights-out,” Beilein explained after the win. “Today, it was all about grit.”
There were times that it felt like nothing could go Michigan’s way. The Wolverines fumbled loose balls away time and again; botched layups that turned to quick Michigan State threes; allowed Michigan State to rebound half of its missed shots; and failed to make a three point shot for the entire game. Despite what at times felt like the a comedy of errors and bad breaks, the Wolverines continued to play hard.
Resilience paid off as Michigan finally took the lead early in the second half and extended it to 10 points with just 4:37 to play. But even then nothing would come easy. Michigan State roared back to tie the game with under a minute to play and had multiple opportunities to win the game in down the stretch. Michigan had something that Michigan State didn’t: Trey Burke. Burke recorded steals on two of Michigan State’s final three possessions, both of which provided the opportunity to take the lead – or the win.
Michigan’s offensive performance was similar to its game against West Virginia in Brooklyn – heavy on the dribble drive. Michigan State was able to take away so many facets of the Wolverine offense that in the half court, Michigan attempted to get its playmakers in space with the opportunities to drive. Both Caris LeVert and Tim Hardaway Jr. attacked the basket more than usual while Trey Burke was his typical self, weaving through screens and contact into the paint before scoring with an array of layups or midrange jumpshots.
Michigan didn’t hit a three point shot, an obvious red flag, but didn’t fall in love with it either – attempting just 20% of its field goals from long range – was able to create easy offense in transition. The Wolverines scored 18 points off of turnovers and had six fast break points. While Michigan was unable to secure many clean rebounds – a usual boost to transition performance – it did steal the ball 11 times. The Wolverines were able to exploit those unsettled situations for easy twos and converted 53% of its looks inside the arc. According to shot chart data from Michigan’s athletic department, Michigan made just three shots outside of the paint all game.
More than anything, this win was about Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines held the Spartans to just .90 points per possession, their best defensive performance since January 30th against Northwestern. Michigan defended the interior (41% 2-point shooting allowed), forced turnovers (28% forced turnover rate), and avoided costly fouls (12 FTA to 59 FGA). That being said, there was still plenty of room for improvement. Michigan State dominated the offensive glass, grabbing half of its missed shots and scoring 16 second chance points. The game turned early in the second half due to Michigan’s ability to draw charges. The Wolverines took four charges before the first media timeout of the second half and held the Spartans scoreless to seize control of the game. The largest difference between the first and second halves was Michigan State’s three point shooting – 5-of-11 in the first, 1-of-11 in the second. The Spartans uncharacteristically fell in love with the long range shot, attempting 40 percent of their field goal attempts from outside.
It was a bit childish but for the first time in weeks, Michigan showed some swagger midway through the second half. The Wolverines slapped the floor, mimicking the Spartans midway through the second half was when Michigan finally appeared to regain some of its swagger. The Wolverines finally looked like a team that was not only confident, but having fun back in front of its home crowd in a big game.
Michigan is going to have to build on its momentum from this win quickly as it now sits tied for second in the Big Ten with Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. One of those four teams is going to end up playing on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan has to travel to Purdue, which won at Wisconsin earlier Sunday afternoon, before hosting Indiana in the season finale on Sunday.
- Trey Burke: Burke simply willed Michigan to victory. He hit big shot after big shot, made great plays; both when the going was tough and when the going was good. The numbers weren’t as glamorous as some of his best games – 8-of-17 (0-3 3pt), eight assists, two turnovers, five steals – but Burke worked his way to every basket through great defense. Burke’s steals at the end were the sort of plays that define the rivalry for years. And his late game steal, deserves a GIF.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway finished just 3-of-12 from the floor, scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out two assists to three turnovers. The numbers weren’t good but Hardaway played aggressively and continued to attack the basket throughout the game. He took one really bad shot (opening the game with a heat check) but I think Michigan will live with Hardaway playing this game every time, assuming he makes more layups. To his credit, Hardaway continued to play tough defensively and grabbed seven defensive rebounds.
- Jordan Morgan: Does a healthy Jordan Morgan matter for Michigan’s interior defense? Despite the nightmare at State College, the answer is clearly yes. Michigan’s overall game plan on Nix was much improved but Morgan was a critical reason that the big man was just 2-of-9 from the floor with six turnovers. Morgan was tough on both ends on the glass (4 def, 3 off) and also picked up three steals in the process. He also played solid defense at the four when Michigan played two bigs, closing out surprisingly well against Adreian Payne on the perimeter.
- Mitch McGary: McGary was a massive boost to Michigan’s half court offense in the second half. He scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in just 11 second half minutes. Perhaps what was most impressive was his variety. He made a tip in, turnaround jump shot, dribble drive and reverse layup and a dunk. He also hit two critical free throws, a fact that will probably be lost by him missing the front end of the 1-and-1 in the game’s closing seconds. McGary had taken a couple of steps back in recent games, something John Beilein admitted, but he scored a third of Michigan’s second half points.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert was thrown into the fire and played a gutty 30 minutes. He missed a lot of shots 4-of-11 (0-3 3pt) but it was critical that he kept playing offense and being aggressive. He wasn’t just another pass on the perimeter, he tried to make plays. LeVert’s defense was great as he grabbed two steals, took a charge and fought admirably to chase around Gary Harris on the perimeter.
- Glenn Robinson III: Beilein praised Robinson for taking two charges, noting that he “had not taken a charge in a long time”. He scored eight points (4-of-6 shooting) and grabbed three rebounds in a quiet 31 minute performance. Robinson made some strong moves, including a dribble drive and his usual emphatic dunks. Adreian Payne had another dominant statistical line but Payne is not just a bad match-up for Robinson, he’s an experienced player who is peaking and playing the best basketball of his career.
- Jon Horford: Horford played just four minutes and recorded a foul, and Michigan played much better basketball with Morgan and McGary on the floor.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas left the game after just four minutes after taking a strong (unintentional) elbow to the face from Branden Dawson.