Over the last few weeks, as opposing defenses keyed in on him, Michigan's Nik Stauskas has remained patient, hesitant to force anything at the offensive end.
Then Michigan State came to town - and that all changed in a big way.
Stauskas scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, repeatedly making contested shots from the perimeter to help the 20th-ranked Wolverines to a 79-70 win over the 13th-ranked Spartans on Sunday. Michigan rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit and wrested first place in the Big Ten from its in-state rival.
"I just came out with the mindset in the second half that I wasn't going to be stopped," Stauskas said. "Once I made a couple shots, it kept going from there."
Caris LeVert added 23 points for the Wolverines (19-7, 11-3), who won both regular-season meetings against Michigan State. Michigan has now won six of its last eight in the series.
The Spartans (22-6, 11-4) started well but were only up 36-34 at halftime. Then Stauskas and LeVert led a second-half charge. The Wolverines trailed 52-51 before going on a 13-0 run that sent the Crisler Center crowd into delirium.
Michigan scored 45 points in the second half Sunday - after blitzing the Spartans for 50 after halftime in an 80-75 win in East Lansing last month.
"The first game, I was very proud of our effort. This game, we looked tired," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I'm not very proud of our effort."
Gary Harris scored 21 points for Michigan State.
Michigan now has a chance to earn its second Big Ten title in three years after tying for the championship in 2012. The Wolverines have home games against Minnesota and Indiana still to come, along with trips to Purdue and Illinois. Michigan State has home games against Illinois and Iowa followed by a trip to Ohio State.
Stauskas was terrific in Michigan's win at Michigan State last month, but he had not scored more than 16 points in a game since then. Perhaps he was letting teams take him out of the offense too easily, but at 6-foot-6, if Stauskas makes up his mind that he's going to shoot, he usually can.
"He's looking for a perfect play all the time, and shooters got to shoot it," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Sometimes what's a bad shot for others is a really good shot for him."
With the Wolverines down 48-43, Stauskas scored seven straight points to give Michigan the lead. When the Spartans edged back ahead by one, Stauskas answered with a 3-pointer, and it soon become clear that there wasn't much Michigan State could do to keep him from simply shooting over defenders on the perimeter.
A 3-pointer by Stauskas from the right wing put Michigan ahead 59-52, then LeVert added a 3-pointer and a dunk.
With the Spartans wearing down, Jon Horford dunked for Michigan to make it 68-56 - and that ended a stretch of 23 straight Michigan points by Stauskas or LeVert.
Michigan fans serenaded the Spartans with a chant of "little brother" toward the end. The Spartans have battled injuries throughout this season - Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson missed the first meeting with Michigan. Dawson was still out Sunday with his broken hand, but Payne is back, and he had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Keith Appling, who has been dealing with a wrist problem, scored only six points for Michigan State.
"Yeah, I fell on the wrist again, but I couldn't come out of the game," Appling said. "It's very frustrating right now, because there are things I just can't do, but I can't let that be an excuse. I'm the quarterback of this team, like coach always says, and I have to be out there leading."
Michigan, of course, has been playing without big man Mitch McGary for over two months, but the Wolverines have overcome his back-related absence thus far. Glenn Robinson III scored 15 points Sunday, including an alley-oop dunk from a driving Stauskas that made it 72-61.
Michigan State made 17 shots from 3-point range in its previous game against Purdue, and the Spartans were locked in early in this one. Payne dunked on freshman Zak Irvin while drawing a foul, and the three-point play gave Michigan State a 22-11 lead.
The Wolverines responded with an immediate 10-0 run that included 3-pointers by Spike Albrecht and LeVert and a breakaway dunk by Irvin.
LeVert scored 14 points in the first half, and his 3-pointer in the final seconds cut Michigan State's lead to two.
-Noah Trister (AP Sports Writer)