Michigan still has four games left on its schedule, but is close enough to taste a Big Ten Championship after sweeping the Spartans on Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines took Michigan State’s best shot, trailing throughout the first half, but had too much offensive firepower. Tom Izzo lamented his team’s defense (and lack of rest) after the loss.
“We didn’t guard. We ran for 300 yards, passed for 400 yards,” Izzo said. “But you’ve gotta check someone. That’s the name of the game.”
He’s right. For the second time this season, Michigan State couldn’t check Michigan.
The Wolverines ran up 79 points in 62 possessions – a cool 1.27 points per trip. An impressive total for one game, it was even with Michigan’s 80 points in 62 possessions in East Lansing earlier this year. Michigan’s offensive outbursts aren’t just the best offensive performances against Michigan State this season, they are the best offensive showings against the Spartans in a Big Ten game over the past three seasons.
In the first half it was Caris LeVert that carried the Wolverines with 14 points, but he gave way to Nik Stauskas in the second. Tom Izzo was forced to slide Gary Harris onto LeVert and Stuaskas pounced. The 6-foot-6 sophomore buried jump shot after jump shot to finally give Michigan the lead and then carried the Wolverines to a comfortable nine point victory.
Michigan’s dynamic duo of 6-foot-6 wings scored or assisted 24 of Michigan’s 27 field goals and combined for an impressive 48 points on 16-of-28 shooting (6-10 3pt) and eight assists.
Michigan State out-shot and out-rebounded the Wolverines, but the turnover gap equalized the game. Michigan’s offense turned the ball over on just five percent of its offensive possessions and the Spartans gave the ball away on 23% of theirs. The net result was six extra field goal attempts and ten extra free throw attempts for the Wolverines.
Nothing was easy for Michigan’s offense, but the backdoor pass really opened things up early. The Wolverines struggled to find backdoor opportunities in earlier losses to Indiana and Iowa, but were finally able to capitalize against an overaggressive defense. Once the back door threat was established, Michigan began to have more room to operate.
Michigan’s coaching staff did a great job of isolating match up advantages on the offensive end. Michigan mounted its comeback in the first half by isolating Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III (utilizing a ball screen) on Russell Byrd (playing due to foul trouble) and then consistently dialed up Nik Stauskas in the second as he could shoot over Keith Appling with ease.
Michigan’s defense surrendered well over a point per possession once again, for the 10th time in Big Ten play, but the Wolverines tightened the screws slightly in the second half. The Wolverines got ten stops in 12 possessions midway through the second half (14:14 through 7:56) and that stretch allowed them to take control of the game. Michigan State still scored 1.05 points per trip in the second half, but that was a defensive improvement after allowing 1.24 points per possession in the first.
Michigan State continued its hot shooting from long distance – even Denzel Valentine was knocking them down – but Michigan deserves some credit for holding its own on the defensive glass. The Spartans grabbed just 29% of their misses and scored only nine second chance points. John Beilein deployed the 1-3-1 zone masterfully in the second half, something he credited to his assistants. The Spartans rarely looked comfortable against the zone and it helped negate Tom Izzo’s ability to draw up set plays out of timeouts.
Someone in the postgame media scrum asked Jordan Morgan about how Michigan used to be on the losing end of this rivalry more often than not, but in actuality Morgan knows more about winning than losing in this rivalry. He’s going to graduate with (at least) a 6-2 record against the Spartans in games that he’s played in. He never lost to Michigan State at home and that says a lot about just how far this program has come.
The rivalry talk can wait until the off season, the Big Ten Championship is the more pressing issue. The Wolverines control their own destiny and need to beat Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana to win their first outright Big Ten Championship since 1985-86.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas opened the game with a backdoor dunk, but he didn’t really get going until the second half. After scoring just 4 points on 2-of-3 shooting in the first, he was unstoppable in the second with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He demanded the ball from the get go and knocked down shot after shot over Keith Appling and Gary Harris. It was his best game since his game in East Lansing and once he got going there was just no stopping him. Stauskas looked every bit the part of the Big Ten Player of the Year that he wants to be and he picked the right time to come alive again.
- Caris LeVert: When Michigan’s offense stutters, Caris LeVert gets the ball. That can make him look bad at times, but lately he just continues to produce. There’s no questioning that LeVert is the best one-on-one talent that Michigan has and he carried the Wolverines in the first half. His three going into the half time break (he actually turned around and started running to the locker room while the ball was in mid-air) was one of the biggest shots of the game. LeVert continues to shoot it well from deep and he’s gone from nice story to one of Michigan’s best players.
- Glenn Robinson III: John Beilein called Robinson a ‘motor man’ after the win and his assessment was dead on tonight. Robinson couldn’t hit anything away from the basket, but he kept playing hard. He finished around the rim and really hustled on the offensive glass (two offensive rebounds, but a big reason that Michigan had three ‘team offensive rebounds). Robinson finished with 15 points on 6-of-12 (0-3 3pt) shooting in 38 minutes.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan, like Robinson, was grinding inside. The box score doesn’t show any offensive rebounds, but Morgan played physically down low all night, finishing with 4 points on 1-of-2 shooting. Izzo mentioned after the game that Payne was ‘getting beat up’ inside and Morgan was a big reason for that.
- Jon Horford: Horford was whistled for five fouls in 16 minutes and only grabbed 3 rebounds (1 offensive), but like Morgan he gave Michigan a physical presence down low. Payne finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds on 4-of-9 shooting (just 4-of-10 at the free throw line) and that’s a pretty good defensive effort by Michigan’s bigs.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht gave Michigan a huge boost and played one of his best games in the past month. Michigan was +19 in the 13 minutes that Albrecht was on the floor and he sparked a number of critical runs. Albrecht was key on pushing the ball to LeVert’s end-of-half triple, but he also keyed a sequence earlier in the first half by hitting a three (assisted by LeVert) and then returning the favor by finding LeVert for a triple.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin only made one shot (a breakaway dunk) and played just seven minutes in the win. Michigan State had a bigger four man on the floor for the majority of the day, so it was a tough game for Irvin to shine without his jumper working (0-2 3pt).
- Derrick Walton: Walton had some tough moments on defense dealing with off-ball action, and was just 1-of-5 from the floor. The most impressive stat in his box score line is the 3 assists and zero turnovers. This was only his second zero turnover game of the season.