Caris LeVert scored 23 points and Nik Stauskas added 25 and when things were all said and done, the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (19-7, 11-3 Big Ten) had beaten the No. 13 Michigan State Spartans (22-6, 11-4), 79-70, sweeping the season series and laying claim to first place in the Big Ten along the way.
For Michigan, the guy who got them going in the first half was without a doubt Caris LeVert. The sophomore guard carved up the Michigan State defense for 14 points in the first, helping the Wolverines fight back from an early 11 point deficit the Spartans had built early.
And in the waning moments of the first, with the Wolverines trailing 36-31, LeVert got a pass on the wing and let a 3-pointer fly. Turning and looking at the Michigan State bench, LeVert began to run up the floor to the locker room before the shot even went through the cylinder.
This shot, which closed the Michigan State lead to two at the half, 36-34, would be a sign of things to come.
In the second half, Michigan continued to roll, only this time riding a different guy: Nik Stauskas. Stauskas played like a man possessed in the second 20 minutes of the game, scoring 21 points in the half to finish with a game-high 25 points.
But the stretch that finally did Michigan State in?
After Michigan State sophomore guard Gary Harris banked in a 3-pointer to give Michigan State a 52-51 lead, the Wolverines would go on a 13-0 run over the next three minutes to take a 64-52 lead.
And who was this run fueled by you might ask? Who else? Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas.
“They were a two-headed monster the whole game and it was tough,” Harris said when speaking of LeVert and Stauskas. “They hit some tough shots.”
Harris scored 21 points on 7 of 17 shooting and added four assists, Adreian Payne added 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Denzel Valentine chipped in with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, but in the end it just wasn’t enough to stick with Michigan’s speed, length and shooting.
“I thought we had complete control of the first half of the game….and then Appling went out with his second foul,” MSU Basketball coach Tom Izzo said, making note of the point of the first half when Michigan State was up 22-11 and Appling picked up the foul that sent him to the bench at the 9:57 mark. “When he was in there, we had a ten point lead.”
It’s no question injuries and team chemistry certainly have been a sore spot for Michigan State this year, still playing without junior Branden Dawson on Sunday, and getting the band back together will be a key for the Spartans down the stretch, especially come tournament time.
And this sore spot showed on Sunday. At times out on the floor against Michigan, the Spartans looked discombobulated and confused, something Izzo certainly took note of.
“Getting guys back, you think is a plus, especially when they shoot well and do some other things well,” Izzo said. “But you still got to fit in with everybody and we did not look like we were in sync…especially defensively. We ran for 300 yards, passed for 400 yards but you gotta check somebody.”
Appling also agreed that certain lineups at certain points of the game had something to do with confusion on the defensive end of the ball for Michigan State on Sunday.
“We had bigger guys on smaller guys and just weird lineups,” Appling said. “A combination of teams having a number of ball handlers and guys who aren’t able to guard perimeter players and that’s what hurt.”
Still, despite all the injuries and lack of chemistry this MSU Basketball team may have right now, Izzo stands behind his team.
“I still believe we can regroup and do the things you need to do to make a run,” he said just before exiting his post game press conference.
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