Michigan’s win in East Lansing on Saturday night was its fifth in its last seven tries against the Spartans. The victory was its third in a row over a top ten opponent, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1987. The Wolverines have reeled off nine straight victories and, most importantly, control the Big Ten.
Michigan State had the crowd, it had the lead and controlled the game for 30 minutes. The Spartans were imposing their will and pushing Michigan all over the court, but could never stretch their lead to double digits. The Wolverines hung in with a rope-a-dope effort that lasted until late in the second half when they finally made their run.
Trailing by as many as eight points in the second half, Michigan battled back to tie the game at 60-60 with four minutes to play. Then the Wolverines stole the game with two plays – both keyed by Jon Horford blocks.
First, Caris LeVert pushed the ball on the break and flipped it to a trailing Nik Stauskas. Three points. Seconds later, Derrick Walton leaked out and LeVert found him streaking down the floor. Catch. Layup. And one. In less than 60 seconds, Michigan had a six point lead that it would never relinquish.
Gary Harris was the best player on the floor, but his 27 points and impressive defensive effort weren’t enough. Nik Stauskas had to battle for every touch let alone basket, but he still managed 19 points on 12 shots. Derrick Walton played his best game as a Wolverine, finishing with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists while Caris LeVert also added an important 17 points and eight rebounds.
Michigan’s offense, admittedly boosted by 16 free throw attempts in the final two minutes, continues to post ridiculous numbers. The Wolverines amassed 1.28 points per possession – Michigan State’s worst defensive performance since 2011 – and scored 1.45 points per trip in the second half while hanging 50 points on the Spartans.
Michigan did it with threes, connecting on 11-of-19 (58%) long range efforts. Entering the game making over 60% of its twos in Big Ten games, the Wolverines were just 11-of-31 (35%) on 2-point attempts. Michigan State’s defense was designed to take away the lane – something it accomplished very well – but Michigan just made a ridiculous number of threes. In the second half, the Wolverines finally got to the free throw line, attempting 27 free throws to just 23 field goal attempts.
The Wolverines also won the battle on both backboards. Michigan rebounded 37% of its missed shots and converted 11 offensive rebounds into 15 second chance points. Michigan State rebounded just 29% of its misses and turned 10 offensive rebounds into just four points.
Beyond rebounding, Michigan’s defense continued to struggle. The Spartans scored a blistering 1.20 points per possession and shot 50% on twos and 42% on threes. Michigan had no answer for Gary Harris, who scored 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting, and struggled to defend Michigan State’s transition game. The Spartans scored 15 points off Michigan turnovers and exploited the Wolverines repeatedly in unsettled situations off long misses as well.
Michigan just keeps getting better. Michigan State was shorthanded, but the Wolverines won on the road at the Breslin Center despite Glenn Robinson III playing an underwhelming game. The most encouraging trend? Derrick Walton is growing up. Next up is a bit of extended rest before a home date with Purdue on Thursday night.
- Derrick Walton: Welcome to the rivalry, Derrick. Walton played his best game as a Wolverine and he was completely composed down the stretch. We’ve criticized Walton for missing some critical free throws late in games, but he was nearly perfect on Saturday night, finishing 9-of-10 at the stripe. Walton played an all around great game, hitting the roll man once on the pick and roll in the second half and knocking down two triples on two attempts.
- Nik Stauskas: When you finish with 19 points on 7-of-12 (5-6 3pt) shooting and the guy chasing you around all night is being lauded for his defense, you are pretty good. Stauskas hit some huge shots and was ridiculous from beyond the arc. He’s also up to No. 9 in the Ken Pomeroy Player of the Year Leaderboard. He’s reaching Trey Burke territory where I’m running out of things to say about his offensive abilities.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert is Michigan’s guy when nothing else works and he continues to do a good job of making something out of nothing. Teams are going to focus on removing Stauskas for the game so LeVert is going to have opportunities. He knocked down 3-of-6 triples, and was finally able to get to the free throw line in the second half. He played 39 minutes, chasing Harris for the majority of those minutes, and although Harris got his points I don’t know who could have done better on Michigan’s roster.
- Jon Horford: Horford’s extended shift after Morgan was called for his fourth foul (a tech) with seven minutes left was the stuff that you are supposed to see from a veteran. His two blocks of Keith Appling late triggered the two baskets that gave Michigan a six point lead and he did a great job of helping at the rim.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan was plagued by foul trouble and only grabbed one defensive rebound, but he did haul in four offensive boards and finished with 4 points in 19 minutes. Morgan battled inside and I thought he did a very good job of hedging on the pick and roll, even if Michigan did have some breakdowns there.
- Glenn Robinson III: When Russell Byrd blocks you driving to to the rim, things aren’t going well. Robinson just never found a groove, finishing with 9 points on 2-of-8 shooting, 1 rebound and three turnovers in 26 minutes. In the first half, he was sidelined with foul trouble. Michigan made an effort to get him the ball in the second, but he could never get going.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht was tough to play in this game because of Keith Appling’s quickness. He was 0-2 from the floor with 3 points, 1 assist and a turnover in 10 minutes.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin knocked down a huge triple – late in the first half when Michigan was up against the rope – but he had his fair share of freshman moments. A traveling call (that looked close) and 1-of-5 shooting marred his debut at the Breslin Center.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt deserves major credit for stepping into the game late in the first half and being ready to contribute. He played physically inside and made me look stupid for tweeting that Michigan State could go on a run if he checked in.