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ANN ARBOR — Held to four points in the first half, Nik Stauskas was concerned about was his inability to break out of a bind. Because of that, the sophomore guard made a conscious decision at halftime of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 79-70 win over Michigan State.
“In the first half, I only took three shots,” Stauskas said. “Every game, it seems like I’m being contained. I kind of came out and I was like, I’m done with this, I’m not going to be contained anymore.”
Stauskas had a game-high 25 points and worked in tandem with sophomore guard Caris LeVert to help the No. 20 Wolverines (19-7, 11-3 Big Ten Conference) erase an 11-point deficit in the first half and a five-point deficit early in the second half.
Stauskas entered Sunday’s game at Crisler Center averaging a team-high 15.4 points but hadn’t had a breakout game in more than a month, when he scored a season-high 26 points in a 75-67 win Jan. 22 against Iowa. He found a groove against the No. 13 Spartans (22-6, 11-4). So did the Wolverines.
“He adjusts well to different defenses that are being played to him so when he hits one, we feel like he won’t miss,” said LeVert, who added 23 points.
With the Big Ten tournament less than three weeks away, Michigan coach John Beilein now seeks consistency from his program, which plays Wednesday at Purdue. Following the season sweep of MSU, Beilein made a declaration.
“Michigan basketball is back,” the seventh-year Wolverines coach said, “in so many ways.”
Yet the Wolverines had to climb out of a hole against the Spartans in order to solidify the belief in their own prominence.
Led by Gary Harris (21 points), Michigan State outrebounded Michigan and relied on its proficiency from 3-point range to take a 22-11 lead on the Wolverines.
Fueled by back-to-back 3-pointers by Spike Albrecht and LeVert, along with a thundering dunk by Zak Irvin, Michigan cut the Spartans lead to three with 6:44 left, and remained within at least six points of the Spartans until just before the buzzer sounded to end the first half.
With one second left, LeVert’s 3-point shot from in front of the Michigan State bench brought the Wolverines within two at 36-34.
“It was kind of a bang-bang play,” LeVert said. “They got a layup at one end and they probably thought the half was going to be over but I snuck out in transition and Nik found me. It was really big. We traded buckets two or three times before that so that was big for us.”
Down 48-43 less than six minutes into the second half, Stauskas’ 3-pointer at 14:17 of the second — his first of three — kicked off a 21-4 run for Michigan, abbreviated only by Gary Harris’ 3-pointer and Adreian Payne’s free throw.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo saw the weaknesses of his team in that stretch, including obvious fatigue.
“We really struggled with some of our guys,” Izzo said. “The first game [Michigan’s 80-75 win Jan. 25 in East Lansing] I was very proud of our effort. This game, we looked tired. I was not very proud of our effort. Honest to God, Adreian was walking up and down the floor. I think he’s not used to taking over the team like he did a month ago. I think that was part of it.
“We did not look very much in sync.”
As the Spartans limped, the Wolverines stretched their lead to as many as 12 points in the final seven minutes.
“It’s tough when you’re playing tough defense and guys are still hitting shots, so that definitely took a little bit out of them,” Stauskas said. “We did a good job of wearing them out. When we were on defense, too, we were making them work for everything.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.