The No. 20 Michigan Wolverines made it 2-for-2 against their in-state rivals this season, with a 79-70 win over No. 13 Michigan State Sunday in Ann Arbor.
Michigan Basketball posted a Vine of the Wolverines' locker-room celebrations.
The win moves Michigan into a lead for the Big Ten regular-season title, so more than bragging rights were on the line in this one.
Like the first matchup between these two in East Lansing, the Spartans seemed to be in control for most of the first half and the early stages of the second half. However, Michigan State couldn't find the kind of sustained run that would put Michigan away.
As Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press tweeted, the door would open for the Wolverines, and they kicked it down:
Spartans did this in East Lansing, too. Suffocated UM for spurts then ... a slight opening, and Wolverines take advantage.— Shawn Windsor (@shawnwindsor) February 23, 2014
The offense really dried up for the Spartans. Michigan State was up 48-43 with 14:43 left. Nik Stauskas hit a three-pointer 20 seconds later, which closed the gap to two points and sparked what would be an 18-5 run for the Wolverines over the next eight minutes.
From there on out, the Wolverines kept Michigan State at arm's length.
Stauskas led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three-point range, three rebounds and five assists. He was the biggest reason for Michigan's second-half run, as he scored the timely buckets that ensured the Spartans wouldn't have a way back in the game.
Glenn Robinson III had a hard time against MSU in the first matchup, scoring nine points. On Sunday, he notched 15 points and five rebounds, giving Stauskas the support he needed.
One Wolverines player who stepped up in a big way was Caris LeVert. The sophomore guard finished with 23 points, three boards and three assists. LeVert put the exclamation point on the game with this dunk that put Michigan up 12 points in the second half.
Whereas Beilein's key players all performed well, Tom Izzo wasn't afforded the same luxury.
Gary Harris performed well again in a losing effort. He led the Spartans with 21 points. The problem was that the sophomore guard had little to no help.
Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com noted that in last week's loss to Wisconsin, John Beilein opted not to double-team Frank Kaminsky. The junior forward led all scorers with 25 points in the Badgers' 75-62 win. The Michigan head coach wasn't going to make the same mistake with Adreian Payne:
Last week the Wolverines didn't double Kaminsky AT ALL. This week, Payne is getting it on every touch (3 of 8 shooting, 9 points).— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) February 23, 2014
Payne had a double-double, with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but you could tell that he was having a lot of trouble with the constant doubles.
What made things even worse for Michigan State was the fact that Keith Appling was clearly bothered by something. Former NBA veteran and current CBS Sports Network analyst Wally Szczerbiak thought that the senior's injured wrist was the main culprit:
Following the game, Izzo talked about Appling and how he'll handle him going forward (via Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press):
Asked about Appling, Izzo says he's going to keep playing him, has to get this team ready for what's ahead with its main people.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) February 23, 2014
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis thought having an injured player commanding so much of the offense was probably a bad idea:
I'm not sure whether Appling is helping or hurting at this point. To have someone handle the ball that much yet unable to shoot?— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 23, 2014
Appling finished the game with six points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Denzel Valentine was a pleasant surprise, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight boards and dishing out six assists.
It wasn't enough, though, to push the Spartans through to victory.
Key Player Grades
Gary Harris, Michigan State: B
Gary Harris almost single-handedly kept the Spartans in it against Michigan back in January, and he did it again on Sunday. His teammates provided little support, though, especially down the stretch.
With Appling not at 100 percent and Payne getting doubled down low, much of the offensive burden shifted to Harris. For most of the game, he could handle it. As the second half went on, though, Michigan's defensive pressure became too much.
Caris LeVert, Michigan: A-
As some remember, Caris LeVert nearly signed with Ohio, only for John Groce to take the head job at Illinois. That left LeVert looking at other options, and he eventually headed to Ann Arbor. As CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello said, he'd probably be tearing the MAC up right now:
Imagine what Caris LeVert would be doing to the MAC right now.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 23, 2014
Instead, LeVert is at Michigan, being a thorn in Michigan State's side.
Stauskas wasn't going to do it alone, so having two consistent scorers on the court was the major difference between the two teams.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan: A
Szczerbiak was one of many to praise Stauskas' performance on Twitter and went so far as to say that the Michigan star had better NBA prospects than Harris, who's projected by some draft experts to be a lottery pick:
With Stauskas playing this well, it's as if Mitch McGary isn't even injured.
Following a brutal four-game stretch, the Wolverines get a bit of a break. They don't have a ranked opponent on the schedule for the rest of the regular season. A road trip to Purdue and a home game against Minnesota is as hard as it gets until the Big Ten tournament.
Rick Bozich of WDRB 41 in Louisville thinks it's Michigan's conference title to lose:
Combined Big Ten record of Michigan's last four opponents is -- 20-35. All four teams have losing records. Tap-in putt to the title.— rickbozich (@rickbozich) February 23, 2014
Michigan State isn't so lucky. The Spartans get Illinois at home on Saturday, and then they wrap up the regular season with No. 15 Iowa at home and No. 24 Ohio State in Columbus.