Down two points to in-state rival Michigan State on Sunday, Michigan guard Nik Stauskas came out of the half a man on a mission.
“I just came out with the mind set in the second half that I wasn’t going to be stopped,” Stauskas said. “I tried to be really aggressive, and coach ran some sets for me just to put me in one-on-one positions. Once I made a couple shots, it kept going from there.”
Stopped he wasn’t.
The Wolverines went on to win, 79-70, against the Spartans in Ann Arbor, putting themselves a game up on their rivals in the conference standings and putting themselves in the driver’s seat for a regular-season conference championship. And Stauskas was the main reason why.
He finished with a game-high 25 points, scoring 17 of the first 25 Michigan points in a second-half explosion that saw the Wolverines turn a tightly contested battle into a blowout in a hurry. Stauskas finished with 21 of his 25 in the second half.
The decision to take over stemmed from recent frustration, as Stauskas has been held relatively in check by opposing defenses in recent weeks. The Wolverines, once unbeaten in Big Ten play, have alternated wins and losses ever since. The slight downturn in performance has corresponded with some less-than-dominant performances from Stauskas, who has been one of the conference’s — one of the country’s — best players all season long.
In Michigan’s first 10 conference games, all wins, Stauskas never scored fewer than 12 points and posted a three-game stretch of 21, 23 and 26 points during the streak. But since scoring just six in the team’s first conference loss, he’s only eclipsed the dozen-point mark once.
That all changed Sunday.
“I’m starting to experience this so much where every game it just seems like I’m being contained,” Stauskas said after the win. “And I kind of came out and said, ‘I’m done with this. I’m not going to be contained any more.’”
Much like the first time the Wolverines defeated the Spartans this season, Stauskas put on an offensive show and carried his team to a win. In East Lansing, he scored 26. Sunday in Ann Arbor it was 25. Half of his four 25-point-plus performances this season have come against the Spartans.
Michigan has four games remaining to try and lock up the Big Ten regular-season title. And for Boilermakers, Gophers, Illini and Hoosiers, they might want to take warning: Stauskas isn’t going to be contained any more.