East Lansing, MI – In a Big Ten showdown that had numerous sub plots, the Michigan Wolverines scored eight straight points at the 3:48 mark after the game was tied at 60, to take control down the stretch. It was Michigan’s third straight win (two on the road) against ranked opponents in a week (#3 Wisconsin, #10 Iowa and #3 MSU). Michigan remained unbeaten in Big Ten action with a 7-0 mark, while previously unbeaten MSU fell a half game behind in conference play at 7-1.
Michigan got out early with a 10-2 lead, sparked by five points by Nik Stauskas, who finished with a very clean- but hard fought for 19 points (7-12 FG, 5-6 3PT FG, 4 assists). The Spartans bounced back quickly and by the 10-minute mark had gained the lead 19-16 on a 3-pointer by almost certain 2014 lottery pick, soph Gary Harris (a career high 27 points (9-16 FG, 4-6 3PT FG, 5 rebounds). MSU retained the lead until Stauskas canned a crucial trey in transition at the 3:12 mark to break the 60-60 deadlock.
Both teams played without future pros and had to cobble out different lineups and sub patterns. MSU was without 6-10 senior, Adreian Payne (ankle issues) and 6-6 Branden Dawson (broken hand-punching a table in frustration at a mid-week film session). The Wolverines were without 6-10, Mitch McGary (back surgery).
In a game that was bound to be decided by the emergence of any one of numerous role players, frosh Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. proved to be the difference with 19 points (4-7 FG, 2-2 3PT, 9-10 FT) six rebounds and four assists (only one turnover). Walton canned 9-of-10 FT’s- many down the stretch under pressure in a hostile environment and scored a dagger layup at the 2:29 mark to give his team a 65-60 lead. Walton outscored MSU senior point guard Keith Appling 19-10, as he marked himself as an emerging 2017 draft prospect. MSU’s Appling, who is a 2014 2nd round NBA Draft prospect, recorded his first career double-double with 10 assists to go with his 10 points (3-11 FG, 0-2 3PT, 4-6 FT).
From an elite player standpoint, however, Harris clearly demonstrated why he is so highly regarded in this year’s draft class as a wing guard. Playing head to head against an emerging first round wing guard himself in Stauskas, Harris defended Stauskas for the most part the entire game and limited the 6’6″ Canadian’s touches and looks. Stauskas labored to get his 19 after back to back 23 and 26 point performances against Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively.
At the offensive end, the athletic Harris showed his versatility by scoring with the ball off the bounce, and without the ball with curls and flairs and in transition. Harris has mastered the step back for triple attempts and his athletic ability enables him to change his shot in tight spaces when necessary. The only flaw tonight was missing 4-of-9 FT attempts. MSU came up a bit short tonight but not because of Harris’ efforts.
Don Sicko is a Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.