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March 4, 2013The legend of Trey Burke continues to grow - and, at this point, it's becoming a rather tall tale.
Days after a horrific loss to Penn State in Happy Valley, a macabre cap to a 3-4 February that seemed to derail a special season, the Wolverines' fate hung in the balance.
After blowing a late-game 10-point lead against instate rival Michigan State, Michigan was staring at a 56-56 tie. The Spartans had the ball with the shot clock off and a chance to escape Crisler Center with a win.
Until Burke stepped in.
"I knew they were going to hold for the last shot," Burke said. "I could tell everyone was kind of nervous, like, 'They have a shot at the last shot, and it's tied up. Either that or overtime.'"
Michigan State point guard Keith Appling took the ball near midcourt and began to set up a play. And Burke went to work.
"I wasn't pressuring him as hard as I could the whole game, and I felt like he might slip up, and he did," he said. "I tried to turn him as many times as possible. The one time he did turn, he kept the ball out, and I just went after it. If I was going to miss it, I was going to be out of the play."
When Appling tried to get away to find an open shot, Burke struck, ripping the ball away from Appling and racing up the court for a rousing, game-sealing dunk that sent the raucous crowd into celebratory madness.
"I am looking to see if he is going either left or right," Burke explained. "If he is coming up with the ball straight toward me, I know I can't really turn him. He was going left, and I knew he was going to turn back right to get the play started. Once he got all the way to the sideline, I thought he was going to call timeout at first, but he didn't. he kept running the play. As soon as he turned, he kept the ball in his right hand, and I was right there. I just shot the gap, and was right there."
With 20 seconds to go, the Wolverines saw their chances transform to precarious to victorious - all thanks to Burke's defensive prowess.
The point guard made another defensive stop on the game's final play, wrestling away the final pass from Appling to end the game, with Michigan on top, 58-57.
"I just take my eyes off for a second to see their formation, there's Trey going down to the other end," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He's very good at that. That was huge, and his defense on the last play was excellent."
"Trey is a great player," added freshman guard Caris LeVert. "He has a will to win that he showed everyone again today. Those last two steals were amazing."
Burke finished with the type of jaw-dropping stat line that he has made commonplace: 8-of-17 shooting for 21 points, eight assists, four rebounds, five steals and just two turnovers.
Unlike the last few games, Burke got away from his jumpshot against the Spartans, focused on getting into the lane and either finding a lay-in or an open teammate.
"I continue to see his growth every day," Beilein said. "Today, there were times when he should have just shot the ball in, but he knew the point was, 'Get the ball in the paint. Drive it at them.' I guess he didn't feel his shot, because he was open, and he still tried to drive it at them. But what was he doing? He was following exactly what the coaches wanted to do. He is becoming a better extension of the coaching staff every day. It's huge for us."
And as Burke's grasp and execution of the offense continues to thrive, his on-court leadership is just as strong.
"I kept reminding them what we talked about in our last meeting," he said. "It was critical that we had that meeting right after the crushing loss to Penn State. We just talked about playing with intensity the whole game. Playing tough - tougher than we have been playing. We knew Penn State was going to try and bully us. We had to hold our own, and we would have a shot. We have to find a way to win this game."
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