Michigan, Michigan State Aiming For Answers In Stretch Run

LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan showed its potential, swarming Michigan State when it had the ball and swishing shots from all over the court on offense.

The Wolverines ended a five-game losing streak with a statement, winning 86-57 Tuesday night in their biggest rout of the Spartans since Tom Izzo was a rookie head coach. They looked just as dominant in a 90-60 victory over Indiana two weeks ago at home.

Michigan (15-9, 5-6 Big Ten) has to figure out how to take that act on the road with five of its final seven games in the regular season coming away from home, including Sunday against the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall. The Wolverines are 0-6 on opponents’ home courts, the only Big Ten team without a road win, and have lost nine straight since winning at Minnesota a year ago this week.

And just when it looked like the Spartans might have been surging, they looked young and rattled against the Wolverines’ experienced team with four seniors and two juniors in the rotation. Michigan’s win was its most lopsided in the series since beating the Spartans 75-46 in 1996.

The Spartans (14-10, 6-5), like the Wolverines, have some work to do to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a difficult schedule down during the stretch run.

Michigan State hosts Iowa on Saturday night and the end of the Spartans’ regular season includes trips to No. 16 Purdue and No. 21 Maryland along with a home game against Big Ten-leading and No. 7 Wisconsin.

“Michigan State is talented team, but they’re young,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “If they had those two big kids that were hurt, they would be a much different team right now.”

The Spartans desperately want to hang onto their Big Ten-record streak of playing in 19 straight NCAA tournaments. The Wolverines have won enough to get in six of the last eight years under Beilein, who led them to the tournament in 2009 for the first time since 1998.

If both have their bubble burst, it would be just the second time since 1984 and the first since 1997 that Michigan State and Michigan didn’t earn a place in college basketball’s showcase event.

Derrick Walton appears to be using all of his will to make sure the Wolverines won’t be relegated to watching the tournament on TV. The senior had 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds against the Spartans, making sure Michigan ended its skid against them that lasted nearly three years.

“I think he’s playing the best basketball of his career,” Izzo said. “I think this game was the most important thing in his life.”

Walton earned a spot in exclusive company in school record books, joining Jalen Rose and Gary Grant as the Wolverines with 1,000 points, 400 assists and 400 rebounds in a career. The point guard has scored 20-plus points in four straight games and five of his last seven.

Walton needs teammates, including Moe Wagner, who scored 19 against the Spartans, and slumping senior Zak Irvin to consistently contribute. Irvin, who was leading the team in scoring before Walton’s recent surge, has scored a total of just eight points in his last three games.

Michigan State, more than Izzo would like, is becoming a team that can’t rely on scoring from anyone consistently other than freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. Bridges scored 15 at Michigan, putting him in double figures for the seventh straight game, including a 33-point outburst against Purdue, and Ward has scored nine points or more in 22 of 24 games.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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