Michigan has some hope after thrashing Michigan State on Tuesday night by 29 points.
As I walked through the front doors of the Crisler Center last night, I accidentally bumped shoulders with someone and apologized for running into them.
The man turned to me and said, “It’s alright, Go Blue! This is the night Michigan turns their season around.”
In a season full of ups-and-downs for both Michigan and Michigan State, it would only make sense that something as unlikely as what that man said to me would happen last night.
Don’t look now, but he might be right
Michigan blew the doors off of the Spartans from start to finish, tying its largest margin of victory against Michigan State by a final score of 86-57. Once again, leaving us to wonder what this team is really capable of doing for the remainder of the season.
I can tell you one thing is for certain: Michigan finally looked like a team that has found an identity, and the fans felt it to.
As the crowd filed into the stadium, there was plenty of green and white spread all over the stands. Wolverine fans didn’t seem to have a huge motivation to get out for a nine o’clock tip, and I can’t really blame them after the last two showings on the court.
However, The fans that did show up saw a show that shocked both fan bases.
You could feel the home crowd’s uncertainty before the game started, as Michigan State fans finally felt like their team was on the up — the same feeling Michigan fans had before traveling to play the Spartans in East Lansing just 11 days ago. The Wolverines had just dominated an inconsistent Indiana squad, and were looking to do some damage during a deadly stretch of basketball. Unfortunately, it was Michigan who took the punches, dropping to both Michigan State and Ohio State.
On Tuesday night, it felt like it was the Spartans’ game to lose. Riding a small winning streak, it seemed likely that Tom Izzo could find a way to beat a Michigan team on the brink of slipping out of the NCAA Tournament bubble for good.
Same team, different story
On Tuesday night, Michigan responded with a purpose.
The Wolverines locked down on Michigan State on defense right out of the gate, and the first 11 minutes were back-and-forth with Michigan leading 23-19 going into a timeout.
After that, the Wolverines stayed hot, and the Spartans didn’t have an answer. Michigan went on a 9-0 run with 3-pointers coming from Derrick Walton Jr. and Xavier Simpson, who played his best game of his season last night.
Izzo called a timeout at the 6:51 mark to try and cool off Michigan and slow the game down.
Walton wasn’t having it. He drilled another triple right out of the timeout and the downpour was on. D.J. Wilson dunked over Kenny Goins and yelled in his face, resulting in a technical foul, one that was well worth it in my opinion. Michigan fans didn’t care either. It’s that kind of attitude that they have been craving all season. A passion, a purpose, and a reason to get up on their feet and cheer. Last night, everyone in maize and blue did just that.
The ultimate dagger came when Duncan Robinson nailed a corner triple as the horn sounded to end the first half, putting the Wolverines up 55-29. The roof felt like it might come off of the building. Spartan fans started to leave the arena, with good reason. This one was over at the half. A half where Michigan went 8-for-11 from beyond the arc, while shooting an unbelievable 75 percent from the field.
So where does this leave Michigan?
Michigan has hope. When the Wolverines knock down big shots, and shoot a high percentage from deep, they can hang with most teams in the country. While that’s been the case all year, the Wolverines now have something more important: a dominating win over a bitter rival and a senior leader to lean on.
Walton has finally rose up to the challenge of leading this team, and he’s had to with the recent absence of Zak Irvin. The Detroit native had another 20-point performance last night, is now averaging 22.5 points per game over the past four outings. Walton joined Gary Grant and Jalen Rose in the program’s 1,000-point, 400-rebound and 400-assist club. Elite company.
Michigan has two home games against two top teams in the Big Ten (Purdue and Wisconsin) and five road games left. Walton will have to continue to be the catalyst for this team to have success. His leadership and playmaking ability he’s shown as of late will mean big things for the Wolverines.
There are no promises that this squad will get into the NCAA Tournament, but I can tell you this: after last night, Michigan got its mojo back. From here on out, the stage is set.
Control your destiny, win big games, and get in.