The last time Dug McDaniel played against Michigan State, he had a night to forget.
Battling an illness and facing the most hostile road environment of his tenure as the Michigan men’s basketball team’s starting point guard to that point, the freshman wasn’t his usual flashy, energetic self. His results from the from the Jan. 7 loss proved it:
Zero points on 0-for-4 shooting.
Despite being more than a month removed from that performance, McDaniel didn’t forget about it. He couldn’t forget about it. He’s an electric competitor who knew a second battle with the Spartans meant a chance at redemption.
“My mindset going into the game was that I owed them this game,” McDaniel said. “Last game (I had) some health issues, but my mindset was, ‘I gotta let them know that I’m here.’ ”
Safe to say, he sent that message early. A jumper and a 3-pointer, followed by a steal and coast-to-coast layup, and McDaniel suddenly had seven points under two minutes into the 84-72 win. One basket after another on his personal 7-0 run to start made it clearer and clearer — things would be different in his second in-state rivalry matchup.
Last time, he was a no-show. This time, he arrived early, and as the back-and-forth battle progressed, he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I established myself early in the game, and it led me through the rest of the game,” McDaniel said.
With his quick assertion, the notion of a repeat performance against Michigan State — of an inability for the freshman to adjust and respond to the team that shut him down — was long gone. From there, the speedy McDaniel played freely.
He’d fly in for rebounds, attacking the glass so aggressively that at one point in the first half he brought the ball down in a heap — barely keeping himself from falling and drawing a travel call — before propelling himself down the court to sink a floater.
His free play extended into his facilitation. Even feeding junior center Hunter Dickinson, usually backing his way into the post for the ball, turned into a dynamic and hard to predict sequence. At one point, McDaniel drew enough attention to catch Dickinson’s defender one step too slow, feeding the cutting Dickinson a perfectly placed lob for a jam.
“From start to finish … Dug was (energetic) on the defensive end, and then offensively he made some tough shots,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “But he also allowed the game to come to him. Not saying he hasn’t before, but when he set the tone the way he did, the guys really rallied behind Dug.”
As the Wolverines rallied behind their point guard, the Spartans struggled to keep up. McDaniel, known for his speed, was suddenly instilled with more confidence to back that up.
That confidence was radiating at everyone in Crisler Center. Whether it was the fans he motioned at in celebration after key baskets, or Michigan State coach Tom Izzo noticing postgame that McDaniel “ran with” his early confidence, fast and free play kept McDaniel in control en-route to a career-high 18 points.
His comprehensive play, both in defensive intensity and variety on offense, meant that Michigan had a chance to dribble out the clock after building a 12-point lead late in the mostly tight game. But McDaniel wasn’t dribbling the ball as the clock wound down to the buzzer.
Instead, he was hunched over the ball near halfcourt, clutching it tightly with both arms. After the game, he explained why.
“I was saying to myself, ‘I owed them this, I owed them this,’ ” McDaniel said of the game’s final seconds. “I was thinking about last game, I just, I owed them this.”
After a scoreless performance against the Spartans in January, McDaniel believed he incurred a debt. He saw this matchup against Michigan State as a chance to settle it while leading his team to victory.
And whether it was clutching the ball in gratitude at the end of his career-high game, or McDaniel’s family pumping their arms in celebration outside the postgame press conferences that led Howard to pause mid-answer to laugh and wave, McDaniel clearly did more than just redeem himself.
He also had a night to remember.