DJ Wilson received the pass from senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. in the low post. The redshirt sophomore forward was surrounded by four Michigan State defenders, but he gathered himself, elevated and threw down a dunk with authority.
But that wasn’t enough for him. Wilson landed, turned to Spartan forward Kenny Goins, and screamed in his ear as if it wasn’t clear enough what had just happened.
Wilson was assessed a technical foul, but the Michigan men’s basketball team still led by 17, and the play was full of a fire that felt like it was a part of a different era and belonged to a different team — the same one that motivated the black socks and black shoes they took the floor in.
That team was the Fab Five — a group of five freshmen that took college basketball by storm with a swagger that people weren’t ready to accept.
Along with that swagger, came results. In a two-year stretch, the Wolverines went 3-1 against Michigan State, made it to two NCAA Tournament championships and filled Crisler Center with ease.
But that was then, Tuesday night was now, and Michigan was in dire need of a dose of that same swagger that electrified the program from 1991 – 1993.
And by the time the final buzzer sounded, the black socks and black shoes fit, as the Wolverines brought a new edge against the Spartans (6-5 Big Ten, 14-10 overall) that was lacking in East Lansing nine days prior en route to an 86-57 victory at Crisler Center.
“You can be pretty consistent about (what) guys are gonna make shots,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “But what type of edge are they gonna play with? That’s hard. And is the edge too much that they get emotionally drunk during the game?
“… Today was like perfect. They were right there, they were angry, they were junkyard dogs. That was the whole idea — a picture of, like, a Doberman that I wanted them to go out and play like. I think it was a Doberman, but it had big teeth.”
The Wolverines (5-6, 15-9) essentially put the game to bed in the first half. In the final 8:20 of the frame, Michigan notched a 32-10 run — going 12-for-15 from the floor — and finished with a 55-29 advantage.
The early blowout was indicative of a first half in which the Wolverines’ offense caught fire, as Michigan finished shooting 75 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from three. Walton played like a man possessed, leading the offensive surge to the tune of 12 points and seven assists.
Behind Walton, sophomore forward Moritz Wagner and junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ended the frame with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
But the Wolverines also received contributions from the most unlikely of places. Freshman guard Xavier Simpson provided Walton with invaluable relief off the bench and catalyzed the offense with a tangible confidence that has been absent this season, eventually finishing the game with seven points and two assists.
The matchup could have gotten away from the Spartans even earlier if Michigan had capitalized on turnovers in the early stages.
The Wolverines managed to draw a charge, force a shot-clock violation and get a stop on Michigan State’s first three possessions, but couldn’t reap the benefits — entering the first media timeout up just 9-8.
Still, Michigan eventually managed to make the Spartans pay for being careless with the ball, finishing the game with 30 points off Michigan State’s 21 turnovers. Some of the turnovers were self-inflicted, but the Wolverines did manage to force four shot-clock violations, notch six steals and hold the Spartans to 48 percent shooting from the floor.
“Some of it’s understandable,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “Like I said, you look at those seniors and they’ve lost four or five times (to us). And I thought they played with an incredible passion. Our freshmen did not match that.”
On the opposite end of the court, Michigan’s offense cooled off in the second half but still managed to finish the game shooting 60 percent.
Walton built off his first-half success to finish with a game-high 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, all while pitching in eight assists and five rebounds. Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman continued to follow Walton’s lead, finishing with 19 and 16 points, respectively.
The matchups with the Spartans have always meant more to Walton — a Detroit native — than they have to his teammates. But on Tuesday night, due in large part to the edge he set from the start, that wasn’t the case.
So as his night was capped off with an induction into Michigan’s 1,000-point, 400-rebound and 400-assist club, it seemed fitting that there are just two other members of that group: Gary Grant and Jalen Rose.