BY DANIEL WASSERMAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published March 3, 2013
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke put himself right back into the mix for National Player of the Year, and when all the dust had settled in Crisler Center, Michigan’s momentum heading into the closing stretch was suddenly back on track.
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After the Wolverines had opened a 10-point lead on Michigan State with four and a half minutes left, the Spartans took over and tied the game with 54 seconds remaining. Freshman forward Mitch McGary stepped out of bounds with 32 seconds left, but right out of an ensuing timeout, Burke picked point guard Keith Appling’s pocket and slammed home a dunk.
After Derrick Nix hit one of his two free throws, and McGary missed the front end of a 1-and-1, the Spartans had 4.9 seconds after a timeout to attempt a game-winning basket. But it was Burke who came through in the clutch again, as he’s done time and time again, stealing a pass from Spartan point guard Gary Harris as time ran out, giving the Wolverines their third-straight home win over the Spartans, 58-57.
“I thought (Apppling) was going to call timeout at first, but he didn’t, he kept running the play,” Burke said of initial steal. “As soon as he turned, he kept the ball in his right hand. … I was still right there. I just shot the gap and got the steal.”
Added Michigan coach John Beilein: “We thought, ‘Here we go again.’ Overtime would be the good news at that point … or they’re going to win the game, and all of a sudden, I take my eyes off for a second to see their formation and there’s Trey going down the other end.”
Michigan survived being out-rebounded, 44-29, and without hitting a single 3-pointer. Beilein said it’s been “about 20 years” since one of teams has played an entire game without converting a 3-pointer. It was also the first time since a 1999 loss to Northwestern that the Wolverines hadn’t made a shot from deep — a streak which lasted 453 games.
Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scored just six points on 3-of-12 shooting, and freshman guard Nik Stauskas didn’t attempt a single shot after going out with a head injury in the game’s opening minutes. But Burke was the hero, scoring 21 points, dishing out eight assists and collecting five steals, all while turning the ball over just twice.
“It was all about grit,” Beilein said. “We’ve been working on it, we’ve been preaching it. …We knew we just had to get a win.”
Freshman guard Caris LeVert added eight points for the Wolverines, filling in for the injured Stauskas. LeVert, who felt Sunday was the “best game” of his career, was given the task of guarding Harris, who torched Michigan for 17 points in the teams’ last meeting. Though Harris scored 16 points, he shot just 2-for-7 from 3-point range and was limited to only one assist.
“He’s one of our better defenders, we know that,” Beilein said. “He played a huge role today, huge role. Being attached to (Harris), whether it was him or Trey, it’s a tough task and he did a great job.”
Michigan raced out of the gates in the second half, scoring the first six points of the stanza. When its 12-0 run, which began in the first half, ended, the Wolverines had totaled a 36-31 run. McGary scored eight points in the stanza’s first 10 minutes, and in that span, Michigan drew two charges to energize the crowd.
With just over five minutes to play and Michigan clinging to a 48-42 lead, Hardaway decided to quarterback a transition instead of handing the ball off to Burke. With freshman forward Glenn Robinson III flanking, Hardaway made what looked to be an ill-advised alley-oop pass, but Robinson soared over a defender and slammed it home, igniting a crowd that for most of the night was quieted — a product of students being away for spring break.
On the other end, Hardaway and Burke slapped their hands emphatically on the floor, mimicking what several Spartan players had done earlier on Sunday, and often in Michigan State’s 23-point win over Michigan on Feb. 23.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called a timeout, but after a stop on the ensuing possession, Burke drew a foul and hit both free throws, giving the Wolverines a 10-point lead — their largest of the evening — before the Spartans went on a run of their own to tie the game.
“I think we had a lot of mental lapses those last two or three minutes,” Burke said.
So Burke reminded the team of what they had talked about during an hour-and-a-half players-only meeting earlier this week at Pizza House, which Burke called “critical” to Sunday’s win.