Badgers mired in second-place logjam
Mess created by Michigan State loss to Michigan
Two top-10 teams coming off losses played a game Sunday befitting their high ranking and their urgent need for a victory in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.
With a sellout, yellow-clad crowd at Crisler Center roaring every Michigan success, the No. 4 Wolverines edged No. 9 Michigan State 58-57 in a contest that created more confusion near the top of the conference.
The deciding basket was provided courtesy of sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who stripped Michigan State guard Keith Appling in the open court, and drove in for a dunk to break a tie and put Michigan up 58-56 with 22 seconds remaining.
Then, Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. and Burke combined to steal the ball as the Spartans were trying to set up a last-second shot.
"I think our team needed that the most at that time," Burke said of his steal against Appling. "Who knows what would have happened if I hadn't gotten that steal? Maybe we'd be crushed here if they hit a game-winning shot. I felt it was my job to make a play for this team."
Michigan's victory, coupled with No. 17 Wisconsin's loss Sunday to unranked Purdue, created a four-way tie for second-place in the Big Ten among the Wolverines, Spartans, Badgers and Ohio State. That quartet, each with an 11-5 conference mark, sits two games behind league-leading Indiana with two games remaining.
Unlike the season's first matchup between Michigan and Michigan State, played in February and dominated by the Spartans (22-7), the Wolverines (24-5) kept the game close in the first half, and took the lead in the second with a performance that turned, surprisingly, on inside play. Known more as a 3-point shooting club, Michigan scored virtually at will on the Spartans in the interior Sunday, making up for the absence of 3-point shooter Nik Stauskas.
"This was all about grit," Michigan coach John Beilein said of the victory. "We've been working on it. We've been preaching it. Our guys buy into it."
Without Stauskas, who was knocked from the game early in the first half after being accidentally elbowed in the head, Michigan did not make a 3-pointer. Although the Wolverines typically score nearly 24 points per game on 3-pointers, they won this one the old-fashioned way: with determined inside play. In all, Michigan scored 44 points in the paint.
Burke led Michigan with 21 points, followed by freshman center Mitch McGary and freshman guard Caris Levert with 11 points each. Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III added eight to help ease the sting of Wednesday's loss at Penn State.
"We tried not to throw that game out, but to learn from it," said Levert, a reserve who played 30 minutes following the injury to Stauskas.
Meanwhile, Michigan State, which had lost back-to-back games to Indiana and Ohio State, saw its losing streak extended to three.
The Spartans, who badly outrebounded Michigan in East Lansing and forced 16 Wolverine turnovers, beat Michigan on the boards again, but committed 18 turnovers compared with just seven by the Wolverines.
"They played better defense, and I think we played worse offense," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose team shot 35.6 percent from the field. "...They don't press, they don't pressure you, we had big guys dribbling it off their feet and things like that."
Michigan State was led in scoring by Adreian Payne with 17 points, and freshman guard Gary Harris added 16. Center Derrick Nix scored seven points, but committed six turnovers.
"The way we finished up the first half and the way we started the second half was the difference in the game," said Izzo, whose team was outscored 14-4 to begin the second half.
Notes: Michigan State went more than five minutes before scoring its first second-half points, which came on a jumper by Harris. ... The Wolverines drew three charging fouls in the opening minutes of the second half. ... The last time Michigan State lost three in row was in January 2011. ... Beilein said the last time one of his teams failed to make a 3-pointer was about 20 years ago when he coached Canisius College.
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