Leading by a half game in the Big Ten race, Michigan State went into Ann Arbor on Sunday looking to seize control of the conference.
Instead, the Wolverines took the same chance provided to them to make a major statement in a 79-70 win – fueled by the two-headed monster of Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert – against the Spartans.
"The name of the game is you play to win big games," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.
Michigan used a 14-0 advantage in points off turnovers – only turning over the ball just three times – and 48 points between Stauskas and LeVert to roll at Crisler Center.
"They just outplayed us, simple as that," Spartans senior Keith Appling said. "They made more shots, got more 50-50 balls and did everything they needed to do to win."
The win gave the Wolverines the sweep of the teams' regular-season meetings, but Izzo's feelings on this loss were different than the first one in East Lansing.
"Where in the first game I was very proud of our effort, this game we looked tired and I was not very proud of effort," he said. "I think I did a poor job playing (Adreian) Payne too many minutes in a row. He was just dead tired."
The senior forward, who missed the first meeting as part of a seven-game stretch he sat out with a foot injury, had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes.
"There were some guys that got more tired than they normally did, but we can't use that as an excuse that some people got tired," sophomore guard Gary Harris said.
The Spartans showed up early, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers to open and jumping out to a 22-11 lead in game's first 10 minutes.
At that point, Izzo said he felt his team had "complete control," but Appling went out with his second foul at the 9:57 mark, changing the combinations on the floor for MSU.
"We started putting lineups in there we haven't and we really struggled with some of our guys," Izzo said. "LeVert went off in that stretch."
The Michigan sophomore had 14 of his 23 points in the first half, with 12 coming in the final 10 minutes before halftime. None was bigger than his 3-pointer to cut the MSU lead to 36-34 as the clock was set to expire after Harris hit a layup with seconds left.
Appling pointed to a lack of communication in getting back defensively and allowing the shot.
"You never want a team to end the half on a made basket because I feel like that's what gave them momentum heading to the second half," he said.
Stauskas, who had just four points in the first half and didn't attempt a 3-pointer, took over after the break.
The sophomore guard scored Michigan's first five points in just 1:18 and hit three 3-pointers to finish the game with 25 points.
"He has a very high release," Appling said. "It was tough to contest his shots and have an effect on him. I feel like every time my hand was there in his face, but those couple inches he had on me made a difference."
Still, the Spartans found themselves leading 52-52 with 10:26 to go when Harris banked in a 3, but Stauskas came back with a 3 of his own and the Wolverines went on a 13-0 run to pull away.
"You could feel the momentum shift," said Denzel Valentine, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. "We didn't respond the way we wanted to."
Harris finished with a team-high 21 points, but it took 17 shot attempts and he hit just 4 of 13 from 3-point range.
The Spartans hit 9 of 23 from 3.
"It's been a strange year, but it doesn't get any stranger than when you go to your rival's and shoot 54 percent, 40 from 3 and lose," Izzo said.
The Wolverines have won four in a row against the Spartans in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1987-90 and have won six of the past eight.
"It stings," Valentine said, "but there's nothing you can do now but we can't act like it's the end of the world. We can still win the Big Ten tournament championship. We can't mope around.
"We've still got a lot of season left. Back to work tomorrow."