Michigan coach Tommy Amaker expressed what everyone at Crisler Arena was thinking yesterday.

“If you had told me before the game that (Michigan captain LaVell) Blanchard would not hit a field goal and would only hit two free throws, I would have said that we would not win the game,” Amaker said after the Wolverines’ dramatic 60-58 win over arch-rival Michigan State.

But what Amaker – and anyone else paying attention across the country – has learned during Michigan’s unbelievably improbable 13-game winning streak, is that this Michigan team has suddenly discovered the uncanny ability to win games despite the most difficult of circumstances.

Yesterday, it was Blanchard, Michigan’s leading scorer through 18 games at 17.8 points per game, that was absolutely stymied by Michigan State forward Aloysius Anagonye and the rest of the Spartans.

Blanchard finished 0-of-5 from the field, scoring his only two points of the game with 10 seconds left on a pair of free throws.

It was the senior’s worst game as a Wolverine, but perhaps his two biggest free throws, as the pair of makes cemented Michigan’s lead at 60-55.

“I’ve shot a lot of free throws in my career, you just go up there and try to knock it down,” Blanchard said. “Their defensive scheme was great, and it opened things up for other guys to get open shots.

“If I score no points but we win, I don’t care.”

“It goes to show you that the little things are the things that win basketball games,” Amaker said. “Even though LaVell Blanchard didn’t hit a field goal he did the little things to help us win the game – I didn’t know how we would pull through, but we did.”

That theme continues to find its way into this run by Michigan.

First the Wolverines snuck out a key road win during the nonconference season at UCLA.

Then it was the furious 15-point comeback in the last 5:36 to capture a victory over Wisconsin. Against Ohio State, Northwestern and Minnesota, the Wolverines had various players find themselves in significant foul trouble, but the Michigan bench stepped up long enough to keep the team winning.

And, finally, the victory over Michigan State. With Blanchard nearly nonexistent on the offensive end, Michigan relied on the freshman guard tandem of Daniel Horton and Lester Abram for 31 points – more than half of the team’s total output.

“That just shows how well our team is coming together,” center Graham Brown said. “For me, it’s just a great win for us. It’s a great win and a great feeling.”

Anagonye’s trademark during his career at Michigan State has been his ability to play hard, physical defense. Despite scoring just four points, the Spartan was textbook in his approach to shutting down Blanchard, preventing him from slipping inside for easy baskets, while at the same time maintaining enough pressure outside to keep Blanchard from finding openings off the dribble.

“A lot of people have said, ‘Why start and play Al Anagonye?'” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He did a great job on (Blanchard), who is playing as good as anyone in the country.”

Michigan’s own persistent defense greatly aided the Wolverines’ chances at a victory. Down 52-47 with 6:22 remaining, Michigan – just as it had against Ohio State and Northwestern -put the clamps on, not allowing another Michigan State point until guard Chris Hill hit a desperation 3-pointer to cut Michigan’s lead to three with 11 seconds to play.

But the story of the day was the Wolverines ability to overcome Blanchard’s inability to score.

Horton, as has been the norm, found a way to take over down the stretch, despite struggling for the majority of the game. The freshman scored seven points in the final five minutes, including a dagger-in-the-heart 3-pointer with 1:24 left, giving Michigan a 56-52 lead.

“(Horton) is a very talented player,” Izzo said. “I thought we did a good job on him, but he did hit a very difficult three late in the game, and I give him credit for that.”

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