The last time arch-rivals Michigan and Michigan State met on the basketball court, it was in East Lansing's Breslin Center and it was all Spartans, all night long, with MSU crushing the U of M by nearly 30 points. But on Sunday night, in Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena, it was a much different story all around.
The two teams met once-again while both being ranked within the top ten teams in the nation; the Spartans (22-7, 11-5 Big Ten) at No. 9 and the Wolverines (24-5, 11-5) sitting pretty at No. 4. It's easy to assume that after the beating Michigan took at the hands of Michigan State back in February that the boys in maize and blue would be out looking for revenge in the friendly confines of their home arena, and from the blow first whistle, it was clear there would be no easy victory on either side of this match up.
Michigan's Trey Burke was simply electric -- There's really no other way to put it. On defense, offense, morale... on whatever; Burke was unstoppable. And when it mattered most, he gave his team all the necessary "spunk" to keep the Spartans off their game just long enough to give his team the winning edge. Even his head coach couldn't believe some of the things he saw down the stretch from Burke.
"I take my eyes off it for a second to see their formation, and there's Trey going down the other end," said Wolverines coach John Beilein.
In the final moments of the game, the two teams remained tied with Michigan State's Keith Appling slowly taking the ball down the court, setting up for what he hoped would be a victory-sealing basket. At that moment. Burke decided to take a little risk that paid off in a very big way. The star point guard reached in and knocked the ball loose from Appling's control and in a split second, sprinted down the lane for an open dunk, giving the Wolverines a two-point lead with 22 seconds remaining. Still, the damage was done, and Michigan would go on to barely edge out the Spartans for a final score of 58-57.
"I really wasn't pressuring him as hard as I felt like I could, the whole game," Burke said of covering Appling. "I tried to turn him as many times as possible. The one time I did turn him, he kept the ball out, so I just went after it. If I was going to miss it, then I was going to be out of the play."
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Spartans who had been hoping to nab another signature win before the Big Ten tournament and Selection Sunday, but even MSU head coach Tom Izzo knows that unless you bring your best each and every day, especially for away games in the Big Ten, there's a very, very good chance that you will walk away empty-handed.
"They've got a good team," Izzo said. "We did some real good things, but unfortunately, `good' isn't good enough in this league--especially when you are playing an away game."
As for Appling, who no doubt felt the sting of disappointment after Burke's game-winning dunk resulted from a steal away from him, the immediate regret was something he felt very clearly... and in a very real way.
"I'm going to be kicking myself over that for as long as I'm playing basketball that I let that happen," Appling said. "I should've been more aware. I kind of looked to Coach Izzo to see if he wanted me to call time out, I turned my head and took my eye off things."
After the complete blowout victory for the Spartans that resulted from their last meeting, Michigan's players entered Sunday's rematch with a clear focus on not only winning, but limiting Michigan State's ability to manhandle them on the hardwood... and in the end, it worked out quite well for the home team.
"We knew that Michigan State was going to come in and try to bully us," Burke said. "But we knew if we held our ground, played smarter down the stretch, we have a shot to win the game."
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