By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – Caris LeVert scored 14 points for Michigan in the first half, when no other player on the team even sniffed double digits, and he scored even more down the stretch. Nik Stauskas overcame a first-half shooting shyness and ignited the Wolverines with timely shot after timely shot, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Together, LeVert and Stauskas make a potent combination. Just ask Michigan State, who could not quite contain either player Sunday, when the Wolverines eventually dribbled out the clock on a 79-70 victory at Crisler Center.
“Those two, that’s been the big story of this year is Caris LeVert, that he’s been able to get over 20 [points] more than a few times now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game. “Now, when they have to put [Gary] Harris on him, now Nik has a different matchup, so it’s really, it’s been good to have those two.”
Michigan had gotten into a hole in the first half before LeVert started to lead a turnaround. The Wolverines had been forced to take a timeout when they could not inbound the ball, they missed a rare second-chance shot attempt after that timeout, they gave up a thunderous dunk (“and one”) to Adreian Payne on the other end, and then they committed a shot clock violation.
LeVert drilled back-to-back baskets shortly thereafter, helping reverse a 22-11 deficit for the Wolverines, who would claw back within two points by the end of the half, thanks to a buzzer-beating 3 by none other than LeVert.
“It’s kind of a sense out there,” LeVert said. “I saw some things that I could attack, and it worked out for us.”
As well as LeVert had played, Michigan needed more from Stauskas. Beilein said the coaches encouraged Stauskas to take more shots, and LeVert said the team expected that Stauskas would follow that directive.
“Nik’s a great player,” LeVert said. “He’s knows when he’s not being as aggressive as he needs to, and I think at halftime he really took it upon himself to challenge himself to go out there and just be aggressive.”
Stauskas said that at halftime he committed to a new mindset: he would not be stopped. His production had declined in recent weeks as teams game-planned for him in light of his success this season. That strategy would fail Sunday.
“I’m starting to experience this so much where every game it just seems like I’m being contained,” Stauskas said. “I kind of came out, I was like, ‘I’m done with this. I’m not going to be contained anymore.’”
LeVert shot 7 of 13 from the field, while Stauskas hit 9 of 15. Both players nailed three of five from beyond the arc. LeVert converted on six of eight free throw attempts, and Stauskas made four of six.
In terms of scoring, Stauskas and LeVert carried the Wolverines in the second half. Stauskas scored the first five points of the period, later went on a streak of 11 straight points, and LeVert got in on the action too, helping spur Michigan to a 17-4 run. The scoring spree put the game out of reach for the Spartans, and it put the Big Ten lead in the hands of the Wolverines.
“It’s been a while since we’ve actually at the same time been hot,” Stauskas said. “The last couple games, it’s kind of been him carrying the load, so for both of us to be on our games today was great.”