Michigan State has muddled through much of its season, finding ways to win games short on style with gritty substance.
The eighth-ranked Spartans, though, showed their potential in an impressive 75-52 win over No. 4 Michigan on Tuesday night in the rivalry's first matchup of top 10 teams.
"The sky is the limit," guard Keith Appling said.
If Michigan State can play anything like it did against the Wolverines, Appling might be right.
The Spartans (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten) broke a first-place tie in the conference with No. 1 Indiana, which plays at Michigan State next Tuesday after the Spartans try to avoid a letdown Saturday night at Nebraska.
Appling acknowledged he was a little bit surprised by the lopsided victory — the school's largest since beating Michigan by 27 points in 2002 — but shrugged off the significance of it with much of the regular season remaining.
"We just have to take it for what it is and prepare for our next game," Appling said.
The Wolverines (21-4, 8-4) have lost three of four, but the closely contested setbacks on the road against the Hoosiers and at Wisconsin were nothing like the latest when they were held to a season-low points total.
"They bullied us — point blank," said Tim Hardaway Jr., who matched a career low with two points.
Michigan State didn't trail once, led by as many as 16 points in the first half and enjoyed 30-point leads in the second.
"We probably played our best game in three years," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "And, they probably played one of their worst."
Michigan coach John Beilein agreed.
"That was the worst we've played in a long, long time and credit Michigan State for that," he said.
Burke scored 18 points for the Wolverines and didn't get much help from his teammate offensively, or defensively.
"It was an embarrassing loss," Burke said.
Hardaway Jr. was held scoreless until making a layup in the opening minute of the second half — after turning down Beilein's suggestion to work on his shot during halftime warmups — and didn't score again. Hardaway was 1 of 11 from the field.
"He's been playing as good as any player in the country," Beilein said. "He had a bad night, credit Michigan State's defense. Tim had a bad night and Tim Hardaway will bounce back like he always has."
Glen Robinson III was 1 of 4 and scored two points to match his season low.
The Wolverines, who pride themselves on taking care of the basketball, had a season-high 16 turnovers and didn't have much success getting the ball away from the turnover-prone Spartans. Michigan made fewer than 40 percent of its shots and scored one fewer point than it did in a three-point loss at Ohio State.
"Maybe we got exactly what we deserve and it's medicine for the future," Beilein said.
Everything went right for Michigan State, which had just eight turnovers and made 48-plus percent of its shots.
Gary Harris scored 17 points, making five 3-pointers, and Derrick Nix had his way on the inside, scoring 14 points as part of a balanced offense.
Appling had 11 points and Branden Dawson scored 10 before leaving the court late in the game because Michigan's Mitch McGary hit him in the face inadvertently with his right arm.
Izzo said Dawson got hit in the nose and had a cut on his lip.
"I do think he's going to be OK," Izzo said.
Matt Costello scored a season-high eight points and fellow freshman Denzel Valentine had seven points to help Michigan State win its second straight in the series after losing three in a row following a run of dominance for the Spartans.
White-clad fans in the stands were fired up before the game even started and they stayed enthusiastic, standing for much of the game, because the home team gave them plenty of reasons to cheer from start to finish.
"The crowd was just awesome," Izzo said. "It kind of reminded me of back in the day."
In the first matchup of 20-win teams in Division I basketball this season, Michigan State showed it might not be a rebuilding this season.
Michigan, meanwhile, has been humbled since being ranked No. 1 last month for the first time since the 1992-92 season.
"It was a big step for us, but don't think that's the real Michigan team because it's not," Izzo said.
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