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ANN ARBOR — A Michigan basketball season once soaked with promise was gusting away like a prairie tumbleweed.
"Here we go again," coach John Beilein recalled thinking in the final seconds of fourth-ranked UM’s 58-57 win over No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday.
A 10-point lead with less than four minutes left had given way to a tie game and the Spartans holding for the last shot. If ever there was a time the Wolverines needed their superstar to save them — and, just maybe, reroute their season — this was it.
"I felt like it was my job to make a play for this team," guard Trey Burke said.
So he made the biggest one of his career.
Burke swiped the ball from Spartans guard Keith Appling near midcourt and raced down the floor for the go-ahead basket — the last of his game-high 21 points — with 20 seconds left. Then, the eeeeeeeeesophomore picked MSU again in the final seconds to clinch a score-settling victory the Wolverines (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten) needed in the worst way.
A sold-out crowd of 12,693 rattled Crisler Arena, while a Michigan team that had lost four of its last seven games — including a collapse at lowly Penn State last Wednesday — exhaled. Instead of falling alone into fifth place in the Big Ten, the Wolverines joined MSU, Ohio State, and Wisconsin in a four-way tie for second behind Indiana.
"For our kids, perception is really important," Beilein said. "We needed some little boost."
It was the latest classic in a thrilling Big Ten season. Three weeks after Michigan State throttled UM in the first top-10 showdown in rivalry history, the second such brush lived up to its billing.
If it was too close for Michigan’s liking, the ending fit a game that defied convention.
Nothing pointed toward a UM win. The Wolverines, who averaged more than eight 3-pointers per game, went 0 for 12 from beyond the arc. They were outrebounded 44-29. And their starting shooting guard, Nik Stauskas, gushed blood onto the court and did not return after taking an early accidental elbow to the face from Spartans forward Branden Dawson.
Not to mention Michigan’s 10-point lead fading to nothing as Appling tied the game at 56 on a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left. Or UM center Mitch McGary then stepping on the baseline, which flipped off the shot clock and allowed MSU to vie for a buzzer-beating win.
"Good news is overtime," Beilein said.
Burke, though, had other designs, studying Appling as the junior all-conference guard attempted to drain the clock about 35 feet from the basket.
Three days earlier, he was one of three players who had called a players-only meeting at Pizza House on Church Street. Here was his chance to lead with his actions in the loudest way possible.
"I’m looking to see if he’s going left or right," said Burke, who also had eight assists. "If he’s coming straight toward me, then I know I can’t really try to turn him. But if he’s going left, I knew he was going to turn back right to get the play started.
"Once he got all the way to the sideline, I thought he was going to call a timeout. But he didn’t and kept running the play. As soon as he turned, he kept the ball in his right hand. I was right there and shot the gap."
"If I was going to miss it," he added, "I was going to be out of the play."
Burke did not, stealing the ball with about 24 seconds left.
"I take my eyes off it for a second to see their formation, and there’s Trey going down to the other end," Beilein said.
"Heck of a play," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose Spartans lost their third straight.
UM was not in the clear. Forward Derrick Nix made one of two free throws with 8.8 seconds left to pull the Spartans within a point, and McGary missed the front end of an ensuing one-and-one. But Burke ensured the game would not slip away, stealing a pass from MSU guard Gary Harris in the final seconds.
"We had to find a way to win this game," Burke said, "and we did."
Forward Adreian Payne led the Spartans with 17 points.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.