“WE WANT STATE! WE WANT STATE!”
With a seven-point lead and two and a half minutes left in last night’s 75-63 win over Minnesota, the Maize Rage was making its desires more than clear. The student section, which has not seen a win over Michigan State since 1998, was chomping at the bit to get its shot at the struggling Spartans.
But first, the Wolverines would have to finish off a Golden Gopher team that did not want to go away quietly. Luckily, sloppy ball handling, poor shooting and pressure defense prevented Minnesota from making a run at the end, as the Gophers scored just four points in the final five minutes.
The win helped Michigan grab sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and stretch its winning streak to 12. The last time the Wolverines started the Big Ten season 5-0 was in 1976-77, when they won their first eight games.
Both teams traded punches all night long in a game that saw eight lead changes and six ties. But with six minutes remaining, the Wolverines grabbed the lead for good off of a LaVell Blanchard 3-pointer.
On Michigan’s next trip down the court, a fast break, Daniel Horton slowed the play down and waited for a trailing Blanchard to come into the offense before kicking the ball out to him for another 3-point bucket. Blanchard finished the game with a season-high 28 points on 4-for-7 3-point shooting and added nine rebounds.
His poised performance gave Michigan a four-point lead and sent the season high crowd of 11,468 to its feet. It was the loudest Crisler Arena has been all season and forced Minnesota to take a timeout.
But just as Blanchard’s shooting had gotten Michigan back from a six-point deficit, Minnesota’s shooting from behind the arc kept it in the game. The Gophers seemed to get a 3-point bucket whenever they needed one, going 5-for-11 from behind the arc in the second half. But down the stretch, the Gophers couldn’t buy a 3-point basket, and the Wolverines wouldn’t sell them anything else.
Just as integral to Michigan’s game last night was the play of junior Bernard Robinson, who threw down one of his patented dunks to ignite the Wolverines in the first half. Robinson, typically one of the Wolverines’ best scorers and defenders, was true to form. The forward paced Michigan with 11 points in the first half while hitting all five of his free throws in the half.
“The guys weren’t necessarily struggling, but things just weren’t falling out there,” Robinson said. “I just wanted to force the issue a little bit, get on the glass, make some plays happen, get the people that usually drop the buckets to get things going. They fed off me well when we were struggling a little bit in the first half.”
After a stretch when Minnesota’s Rick Rickert used an array of spin moves and fade-away jumpers to score eight straight points, Amaker had his team switch to a zone defense. After the switch, Rickert, who put down 15 points and eight boards on Michigan, would not hit another field goal.
“Their zone got us out of rhythm,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “We stood around the perimeter and waited for things to happen. We were just not aggressive in there. They did a good job of changing up their defenses, but a large part was us not getting it done on offense.”
This zone defense helped spread Minnesota’s forwards out and allowed Michigan to outrebound the larger front line by 12.
Now with the Gophers out of the way, the Wolverines can focus on the same thing that their fans are – State.