Trey Burke slammed both hands on the hardwood at Crisler Arena, the second time nearly close enough to smash Tom Izzo's shoe tops. He wasn't mocking the Spartans, Burke insisted.
Maybe it wasn't an act of mockery. Clearly, though, the two-handed malevolence on the maple flooring at Crisler - mimicking MSU's dug-in defensive gesture - marked an act of defiance.
Not here. Not now. Not on OUR court.
"I did it, and everybody else did it," Burke acknowledged. "I wouldn't say it was like us trying to mock them or anything. It was just a tough, competitive game."
Here's a look at how emotionally competitive it got
Burke Floor Slap.
Now, anyone can slap a floor. Figuratively slapping an opponent in the face at just the right time means even more. That's what Burke did, and that's what made all the difference.
The sophomore picked the pocket of veteran MSU guard Keith Appling so cleanly, Appling looked like a befuddled tourist in Central Park bemoaning the disappearance of his wallet. Burke turned that one into the game-winning dunk with seconds remaining, and relieved Appling of his ball-handling duties on the afternoon.
On MSU's final possession, freshman Gary Harris took control
at least until Burke did. Harris tried to pass to Appling, but Burke slashed into the passing lane, stealing the ball and a 58-57 win within spitting distance of Izzo.
The emotion that followed proved worthy of a March Madness kick-start. But that's just it - the emotion, for Michigan, can't end with a slap to the Spartans.
This one proved easy, in terms of emotional readiness. After all, MSU pummeled the Wolverines just weeks ago in East Lansing, and then Michigan laid an egg in the final, excruciating 10 minutes against winless Penn State.
U-M conducted a players-only meeting the day after the Happy Valley Horror, according to Burke. They came into the MSU game desperate, and ready to slap something.
And they did.
"It definitely feels good," Burke said. "They got us really good in East Lansing. We knew it would be a long shot for them to come here and us beat them by 20. They're coming off of two losses. This is a team that's hungry. It definitely feels good to get revenge on a great rivalry team."
The margin doesn't matter. Three weeks from now, nobody's going to care if you win by 35, or one. Loser goes home. That's why Michigan's response not only to facing its biggest basketball rival, but also partially cleansing the Nittany Stain, has to prove heartening inside the U-M locker room.
"From here on out, we're going to try to take every game as serious as possible, knowing we could lose," Burke said. "Just look at how we lost to Penn State.
"As far as the level of the rivalry, definitely, this is the most important game for us. I'm glad we got the chance to beat them, and maybe we'll get to see them in the Big Ten Tournament."
That's potential theater for another day. This day, Michigan determined it wasn't going to just absorb a blow and do all the bleeding. There was certainly some of that, with rookie Nik Stauskas departing early after catching an inadvertent elbow in the head.
But the Wolverines pushed back, again and again. They harassed MSU big man Derrick Nix like pit bulls on a grizzly, forcing six turnovers out of him. While falling victim to MSU's strong-arm tactics on the boards, they battled back by taking charges, in a clear display of tactical toughness.
Most of all, they didn't get hit in the mouth and turtle. That could not happen
and did not.
"Aw, definitely," Burke said of Michigan's response to MSU's physicality. "It would have been the same result. If we would have come out and played the way we played in East Lansing, if we would have come out and tried to beat them with just talent, they would have beat us the same way.
"But we came out with toughness and a lot of intensity. That was really the key point of this game - responding to all of their runs, and responding to adversity."
And doing so with ferocious intensity, with no hint of letup, while winning a street fight featuring scores in the 50s rather than a shootout in the 80s. In March, style points don't matter. The hype and elevated expectations of December mean nothing.
Even the disappointments amid a Big Ten battle melt away. It's about winning every game, however it can be accomplished. It's about passion and pride and grit and all-out effort.
Slap the floor. And if anyone gets in the way, slap them, too.
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