Feb. 24, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
When Michigan met Michigan State on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 23) at Crisler Center, the two instate rivals were looking to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten Conference standings. John Beilein's Wolverines were also striving to complete a sweep of the Spartans, after defeating them, 80-75, on the road in East Lansing, having split the season with MSU the last two years.
Both teams were hungry for victory, yet with 10:50 to go in the first half, MSU seemed to have the advantage, taking a 22-11 lead. It was then that Michigan's Caris LeVert sprang into action, becoming one half, along with fellow sophomore Nik Stauskas, of the Wolverines' dynamic backcourt duo that helped drive their team to a 79-70 victory.
The 11-point Spartan lead in the first half was MSU's largest of the game. LeVert then scored or assisted on the Wolverine's next seven uncontested points to lead Michigan on a comeback run.
"The type of defense they played helped me to find some spots, find some open shots and knock down shots. And we got off in transition; that really helped us out," said LeVert.
"Caris has, as you can see, an ability to get in the paint," said Beilein. "They can't guard everybody, so if you put him and Nik on the same side, they're not going to leave Nik. That got [LeVert] to the rim."
Michigan trailed by two possessions with just five seconds left in the half, before Stauskas got the ball to LeVert, who sank a three-pointer as the shot clock ran down to send the Wolverines into the locker room down just two. LeVert ended the half with 14 points.
In the second half, Stauskas joined LeVert as a dominant force on Michigan's backcourt. The Canadian had just four points on 2-of-3 shooting in the first half but finished the game with 25 points. On the first possession of the second half, he drove to the basket and made a layup to tie the game, 36-36. He also hit a jumper to give Michigan its first lead of the game since early in the first half.
"First half, I only took three shots, and I knew this team was going to need me to be aggressive if we were going to win the game," Stauskas said. "Coach kept running sets for me, and I kept getting more shots, and you just get rolling from there."
"He's just a great player," said LeVert of his teammate. "Defenses have been changing up all year on him, and he's figured out ways to adjust."
"They're a really good team. They're a good defensive team," added fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan. "But he's a big-time player. He stepped up today and made some big-time plays."
"They were very aggressive," said Morgan of Stauskas and LeVert, who ended the night with 23 points. "Coach had been on them about taking the shots that they make every day and not being passive. They were very aggressive tonight, getting to the basket and knocking down big shots."
TAKING CARE OF THE BALL
The Wolverines also valued possession of the ball against MSU, turning it over just three times while forcing 13 MSU turnovers. This translated to 14 points off turnovers for Michigan and none for MSU.
While the Spartans outrebounded Michigan handily, 31-24, they only notched seven offensive boards, the same as the Wolverines.
"We just couldn't get punked by them," said Stauskas. "Their team is noted for their physical aggression. They're going to try and get on the offensive glass. We just couldn't let that happen today."
"They shot really well to start the game," Morgan added. "When it evened out, the way we took care of the ball and the way we rebounded helped us out."
Defense was also a disciplined team effort, as the Wolverines switched between man-to-man and a 1-3-1 zone in order to slow the Spartans in the second half.
"At half time, we noticed they were getting a lot of easy buckets in transition," said LeVert. "That was emphasized at the break, and I think we did a better job in the second half."
"I think we did a good job of switching between our three zone and our man-to-man defense, and it kept them off balance the whole game," added Stauskas. "We were active; guys were moving their feet and had their hands up.
We were able to get some deflections. When we get stops, we can get out and run and get some easy baskets, so that was key."
"Credit my assistants big time on that one, because it is hard to get me to go zone sometimes," said Beilein. "We do practice it, and we're improving in it. But I have gone from using it so much to hating giving up a three ball. They're so good at running what they do, that we just wanted a change. (Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo) is great at coming out of a timeout and running a play where they're either fouled, or they get an open shot. So we thought maybe some of those times we'd go zone out of a timeout."
The victory places Michigan in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. However, Beilein is quick to note that there are still four more games left to determine the champion.
"It's part of the formula. You have to beat Michigan State. I've been here for seven years. Michigan State is in the mix," said Beilein. "It doesn't win us a championship, it doesn't put us in position for it -- we got four games to play. What it does do right now is put us in position to be in position."
Game Recap: Michigan Earns Sweep of MSU with Big Second Half