Michigan Wolverines forward Jordan Morgan (52) and Michigan State Spartans forward Kenny Kaminski (30) fight for loose ball during the 1st half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)
EAST LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - No Mitch McGary, no Adreian Payne, no Branden Dawson, no problem - Michigan and Michigan State still managed to put on a show tonight at Breslin Center.
And the No. 21 Wolverines closed it in style, emerging as the Big Ten leader and favorite in the process. Down 49-41 with 13 minutes left, they outscored the No. 3 Spartans, 39-26, from there for an 80-75 win - going on a devastating 8-0 run with the game tied at 60 and less than 4 minutes to play.
The Wolverines (15-4, 7-0 Big Ten) now have their best Big Ten start since the 1976-77 season - the last 6-0 start was in 2002-03 - and become the first team in college basketball since Iowa in 1986-87 to beat three top-10 teams in a row, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
U-M stunned many with a win at then-No. 3 Wisconsin a week earlier, further legitimized its Big Ten title hopes with an impressive 75-67 home win over No. 10 Iowa on Wednesday, then showed tremendous poise to come back tonight for the program's second win at Breslin in its past 15 tries.
The Wolverines did it with 19 points from the Big Ten's leading scorer, sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, and clutch scoring help from freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. (19 points) and sophomore guard Caris LeVert (17 points). This team has a championship look, even with McGary out indefinitely with a back injury.
MSU (18-2, 7-1) played its fifth straight game without Payne (sprained right foot) and its first without Dawson, who broke his hand Thursday and is out four to five weeks. Gary Harris scored a game-high and career-high 27 points for MSU and freshman Alvin Ellis had a surprising 12 off the bench, but it wasn't enough.
Keith Appling had 10 points and 10 assists, but he was turned back at the rim twice in the decisive run, leading to U-M fastbreak baskets on the other end.
The Spartans must regroup quickly with a trip Tuesday to play No. 10 Iowa. Dawson will miss it for sure and Payne would need near-miraculous progress in the next couple days to make it. More likely, he comes back at some point after Saturday's game against Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.
Stauskas and the Wolverines came right out with the confidence that carried them to wins over top-10 teams in their past two outings. He hit a triple, then a jumper with Harris in his face, and it was 10-2 Wolverines three minutes into the game.
A year ago, Breslin rocked early and kept building noise as the Spartans rolled to a 75-52 win. U-M killed that noise early. But it would surface. It was 15-9 Wolverines after another Stauskas three with 13:21 left in the first half - but those would be his last points until early in the second half.
The Spartans got back into it with defense, their most stifling of the season for stretches, even without Dawson's size and athleticism to enhance it.
A 12-1 MSU run made it 21-16 Spartans, and it was capped when Denzel Valentine found Kenny Kaminski - starting in Dawson's place - with a nifty pass for a fast-break layup. The Spartans saw Michigan's eight-point lead and built one of their own, but it was 36-30 at the half and a two-point game again early in the second.
Harris was hot early in the second, though, and a deep three-pointer made it 49-41 Spartans. Breslin roared and the Wolverines appeared to be in danger.
But LeVert drove and got to the line. Stauskas found a couple inches on a deep three, pulled it and nailed it. Then LeVert got a corner look for three and swished it with 7:45 left - tying the game at 53.
A Jon Horford putback of a free-throw miss with 7:14 left gave U-M a 55-54 lead, its first since it was 15-14.
The Spartans got it back from an unlikely source - Harris drove and found freshman Ellis for a triple to make it 57-55 Spartans.
It was 58-55 when Walton stepped into a triple and buried it. Appling got inside for a basket, U-M tied it with free throws, and then came the sequence that won the game.
Appling drove and drew some contact, but no foul. U-M sprinted the other way and Stauskas buried a three in transition. On MSU's next possession, Appling drove to the rim, but Horford swatted him away - leading to a Walton fast-break layup, plus the foul and free throw.
It was 66-60 with 2:29 left, and the Wolverines would finish the job at the foul line from there.
Contact Joe Rexrode: email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe.