EAST LANSING, Mich. — The last time the Michigan Wolverines set foot in the Breslin Center, they were overwhelmed by the atmosphere. They showed a lot more poise in their annual visit on Saturday night and left with sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
Freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. and sophomore guard Nik Stauskas scored 19 points apiece to lead No. 21 Michigan to an 80-75 upset of No. 3 Michigan State. Walton’s point total was a career high for Michigan (15-4 overall, 7-0 Big Ten), which has won nine straight.
The Wolverines trailed by eight with just over 13 minutes remaining but fought back and eventually took command with 10 straight points in the late going. That was a stark contrast to last season when Michigan State blew them out 75-52.
“We knew tonight we had to stayed composed for 40 minutes,” said Michigan sophomore guard Caris LeVert, who supplied 17 points. “They’re going to go on their runs. They’ve got a great crowd, so we just stayed the course, stayed composed and got the win.
“Before the game and all week we talked about how they kind of punked us last year and we weren’t going to let that happen this year.”
The Wolverines relied on their outside shooting, making 11 of 19 3-point attempts.
“They shot over 50 percent,” Michigan State sophomore guard Gary Harris said of Michigan’s long-range success. “It’s kind of hard to beat teams when they shoot over from the 3 and (83) percent from the free throw line.”
Michigan, which has the youngest team in the Big Ten, was 6-4 in mid-December, but losses to powerhouses Duke and Arizona prepared it for conference play.
“We’ve been tested a lot this year,” Michigan center Jordan Morgan said. “That might be the difference. We’ve had a really tough schedule already and we’ve had a couple of road games where we got knocked back and we didn’t fight back. We’re learning from those experiences and keeping our composure in environments like this.”
Harris had a career-high 27 points for Michigan State (18-2, 7-1). Freshman guard Alvin Ellis III added 12 points, point guard Keith Appling had 10 points and a career-high 10 assists and freshman center Matt Costello posted career highs with nine points and nine rebounds.
The Spartans played without their two best frontcourt players. Forward Adreian Payne missed his fifth consecutive game because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot and guard-forward Branden Dawson broke his right hand during a film session on Thursday.
Without them, the Spartans were outrebounded 34-30.
“A lot of guys stepped up and played really well to fill the void, but we don’t have any more Adreian Paynes or Branden Dawsons,” Harris said. “That just shows you what kind of impact they have on the team.”
A Harris 3-pointer gave Michigan State its biggest lead of the second half at 49-41. Things then got a little heated when Spartans forward Russell Byrd blocked a shot by Michigan forward Glenn Robinson. Morgan and Appling ended up with technicals.
Moments later, LeVert tied it at 53 with a 3-pointer. Appling’s layup eventually put the Spartans back on top, 60-58, but Michigan then went on its decisive spurt.
Stauskas’ transition 3-pointer gave the Wolverines the lead and Walton’s three-point play with 2:29 remaining made it 66-60. Two Walton free throws with 1:58 left pushed Michigan’s lead to eight.
“I really didn’t have to force anything,” Walton said. “Everything was just there for me.”
Michigan State got as close as three in the closing seconds, but LeVert free throws iced the Wolverines’ victory.
NOTES: This was the first meeting between the teams when both were at least 6-0 in the Big Ten. It was also the fifth consecutive meeting when both were ranked. … Michigan State’s best conference start was a 9-0 record in 2010. Michigan won its first 13 Big Ten games in 1964-65. … The Spartans won 20 of the last 27 meetings but had lost four of the last six. The home team won the last five times. … The Wolverines had not played three consecutive Top 10 opponents since December 1963. It defeated then No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 10 Iowa in its previous two games. … Michigan State used
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