ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For Trey Burke’s next trick, he’ll probably drive to East Lansing and steal the Magic Johnson statue from the Breslin Center.
It would be fitting, since he’s already taken away Michigan State’s shot at a Big Ten championship.
Burke had two key steals in the last 25 seconds of Michigan’s 58-57 victory, both taking away chances for the Spartans to put up game-winning shots.
Burke’s first play came after Michigan turned the ball over with 30 seconds left and the score tied. As Keith Appling brought the ball up court to set up for the last shot, Michigan coach John Beilein glanced away for a split-second.
“At that point, we’re hoping that we can get a stop and force overtime,” he said. “I saw the ball coming up the floor, so I looked away to see how Michigan State was setting up on offense. When I looked back, Trey was running past me with the ball.”
Despite being obviously tired from playing 38 intense minutes, Burke stripped Appling and went in for an uncontested dunk to give Michigan a 58-56 lead with 17 seconds to play.
“I knew that if I could get him to go toward the sideline, I’d have a chance to turn him and go for the ball,” Burke said. “He did, and when he turned back, he left the ball in his right hand. I shot the gap and got it. If I had missed, I was out of the play, and we might have been in trouble.”
Appling said he headed toward the Michigan State bench in order to get some instructions Tom Izzo. That was enough to cost his team the game.
“I’m going to be kicking myself over that for as long as I’m playing basketball,” he said. “I should’ve been more aware. I kind of looked to coach Izzo to see if he wanted me to call timeout, I turned my head and took my eye off things.”
After Burke’s dunk, Derrick Nix split a pair of free throws, forcing the Spartans to foul freshman Mitch McGary. He missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving Michigan State another chance to win with 4.9 seconds left.
This time, Gary Harris took a pass at midcourt, but couldn’t get past Tim Hardaway Jr. He kept going left, and ended up against the sidelines without a shot. Harris desperately tried to flip the ball to Appling in the corner, but Burke grabbed the ball as time expired.
“We were looking to get Gary a three, and we just didn’t execute the play,” Izzo said. “I thought I’d call something for Gary, because Keith was still really frustrated from the turnover, but we had a lot of freshmen on the floor, and we ended up getting the ball almost at center court.”
Michigan’s win means that Indiana has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, but both the Wolverines and Spartans still have a slim chance of getting into a tie at 13-5. Indiana would have to lose its final two games — home against Ohio State and at Michigan, while the Wolverines would also have to win at Purdue to earn a second straight Big Ten banner. For the Spartans, it would take home wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern, plus a Michigan win over Indiana.
“We know we’re going to be getting ready for the Big Ten tournament, but right now, we’re still in with a chance at a Big Ten championship,” Beilein said. “After all that, we can worry about the NCAA Tournament if we get a bid.”
With 24 wins and counting, Beilein knows that his team has locked up a spot in the Big Dance, as have the Spartans. Still, with both teams struggling in recent weeks, they were desperate for a victory.
The Wolverines went 3-4 in February, including an embarrassing loss to previously winless Penn State on Wednesday.
“We really needed something good tonight, especially after the disappointment on Wednesday,” Beilein said. “This would have been a shameful game to lose, especially after having a 10-point lead late. I know that our next practice is going to feel a lot different than it would have had we lost this one.”
Both Beilein and Izzo believe that their teams’ struggles are being overplayed because of a quirk in the Big Ten schedule. The Wolverines faced a stretch of games against Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin in February — losing three of them — while Michigan State has lost to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan.
“I’m focused on the fact that we are playing pretty well,” Izzo said. “If we had lost to Indiana, beaten a couple teams, lost to Ohio State, beaten someone and then lost to Michigan, we’d have the same three losses, but no one would be worrying about it. The fact that those three games ended up in a row is just how the schedule worked out. We can’t do anything about that.”
Burke’s defensive plays ended a game that was nothing like the pundits would have expected. The Wolverines won the game without hitting a 3-pointer — they were 0-12 — while Michigan State managed only 26 points in the paint despite getting back half of their 38 missed shots.
Michigan’s outside shooting wasn’t helped when Nik Stauskas was busted open by a stray elbow early in the game. Twelve stitches later, he came back to the bench, but didn’t return to action. He spent the second half in the locker room.
“I clearly remember the last time my team won a game without hitting a 3-pointer,” Beilein said. “It was about 20 years ago, and Canisius went 0-22 against St. Bonaventure, but we won the game in overtime. I wouldn’t have expected that tonight, but we played a great defensive game.”
The Spartans kept getting offensive rebounds, but weren’t able to do anything with them. They turned the ball over 18 times, and Nix missed seven of his nine shots.
“We just didn’t throw the ball inside,” Izzo said. “We hit some early threes, but that was both a blessing and a curse, because we just kept shooting them. That wasn’t the game plan — we needed the ball in the post.”
Neither team did what they normally do, and in the end, it came down to the best player on the floor. Burke’s two late steals gave him five on the night, to go along with 21 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
“Trey Burke’s a great player, and he made a great play at the end of the game,” Izzo said. “But he really hurt us the whole night.”