Identifying Spartan fatigue aids in comeback win

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 24, 2014

With seven minutes left in the first half of Sunday’s Michigan men’s basketball game, Zak Irvin streaked down the court with ball in his hands. Instead of pulling up from behind the arc, the freshman guard drove to the basket.

Climbing in the air toward the hoop, the swingman unleashed a dunk — a rarity for the 3-point marksman. As the Wolverines began to claw back from an 11-point deficit in their eventual 79-70 win, one thing became apparent in that fast break: Michigan was ready to run, whether Michigan State liked it or not.

Outscoring the Spartans 14-0 off turnovers, it didn’t matter that Michigan State outscored the Wolverines in the paint thanks to 54-percent shooting from the field.

“I think (turnovers were) the difference in the game,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “They got turnovers. They got touchdowns and layups, and we didn’t.”

Committing just three turnovers, compared to 13 by Michigan State, Michigan didn’t just outscore the Spartans — the Wolverines outwore them.

After a 21-4 run spanning more than seven minutes in the second half, Michigan reached its biggest lead of the game. With Michigan State players bent over in exhaustion, the 16th-ranked Wolverines (11-3 Big Ten, 19-7 overall) made up for a slow start.

“I could see a couple of their players bending over,” said sophomore guard Glenn Robinson III. “I told our guys this is what we train for. Some of our guys have been here the whole summer. This is our moment. I thought we did a great job of responding to that and I thought we had a lot of energy today.”

Though it’s easy to look at the calendar and note that Michigan had a week off between games and Michigan State had a late game Thursday at Purdue, that wasn’t necessarily how the Wolverines felt.

“I don’t know if that’s an excuse,” said fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan. “We played five games in 13 days — everybody goes through that. I think it was our energy more than anything. We had it all game long. I think that may have made it overwhelming.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily that we outlasted them. I just think our energy level kept everybody encouraged (and) confident.”

Extra rest or not, Robinson made sure that his teammates, and more specifically Morgan, saw what was happening to the Spartans.

“A couple of us noticed (their fatigue),” Robinson said. “I told Jordan (Morgan) to run the floor. Even if he doesn’t get the ball, we’ll have spot-up jump shots.”

That was the case in Michigan’s second-half run to open up the game. In the 21-4 run, 14 points came on open jumpers — with four more coming on shots at the basket — by sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.

Forward Adreian Payne remained in the game the entire duration, with the exception of the initial Stauskas 3-pointer, and Michigan took advantage of the Spartans’ best big man playing his sixth game back since missing seven because of a sprained foot. Though Payne posted a double-double, it was clear he wasn’t near the force he has come to be known as over his four-year career at Michigan State.

“He looked just dead to me,” Izzo said of Payne. “I mean, a couple times we wanted to get him out, but we didn’t want to use a timeout. … The poor kid, I thought that was part of it. I think he’s not used to taking over the team like a month ago.”

Though Izzo was willing to acquit Payne and guard Keith Appling’s fatigue due to lingering injuries, the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the Spartan team.

With the Wolverines controlling their destiny for the Big Ten regular-season title, Michigan needs to have a repeat performance of Sunday to keep its stronghold of first place.