- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Sitting in a maize sweater in one of the front rows of the friends and family section Tuesday night, Ronda Burke patiently waited for this to happen. She knew this would happen.
So when she watched her son, Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke, transform into the best player on the floor during No. 19 Michigan's 60-59 win over No 9 Michigan State, she was the least surprised person in the building.
"A part of me knows he's going to go down swinging, kicking, whatever he needs to do, and I just sit there and wait on it," Ronda said. "I know he has it in him. Trey is a fighter. If they are going to lose, chances are they are going to lose with him doing whatever he has to do to win the game."
Michigan almost lost Tuesday night. But because of Ronda's son, the same one she saw take the big shots during games at Northland High School in Columbus, Ohio, the Wolverines won, because Burke essentially brought them there.
As Michigan broke out to a 36-29 lead in the first half Tuesday, Burke took control of the game. He made critical 3-pointers. He drove to the lane, beating Michigan State guard Keith Appling time after time. And when he couldn't find a shot, he found an open man instead.
In some ways, this has been what Burke has done all season for Michigan, becoming the most critical player the Wolverines have. Michigan State believes it, too.
On film, the Spartans saw a good player. After seeing him in person, they said he was better than anticipated.
"The way he changes speeds with the ball, he'll lull you to sleep and he'll come back and make a crossover and just stop," Michigan State forward Draymond Green said. "The way he changes speeds is really good, and you can't really see on film how quick it is.
"All you can see is him beating people with it, but you can't understand why, because it doesn't look like it is that fast on film."
That speed is just another facet of his game -- a game in which he led or tied for the Michigan lead in points (20), assists (three) and tied for the team lead in rebounds (four), steals (two) and blocks (two).
Burke didn't know what to expect Tuesday and afterward said he had never been in anything like this.
"It was my first rivalry against them," Burke said. "I wouldn't say I was nervous. It was just something new."
New soon became familiar. In the second half, he scored seven straight points to give Michigan a 47-36 lead. Then, with Michigan State leading 52-49, he hit a 26-foot 3-pointer from just off the top of the key to tie the game at 52-52.
That was merely the start. He then came through the lane to block a Travis Trice jumper. In that moment his father, Benji, realized that the Trey Burke playing in college has the same confidence he had at Northland.
"I didn't expect him to have this much success this early," Benji said, half-texting and half-talking with a smile on his face. "I did think he would be good, but I thought he would be in more of a learning role."
So, too, did Michigan's captains -- Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. But Burke has exceeded every reasonable expectation they had. In the past, Novak would put his arm around freshmen before big games to help calm them down.
On Tuesday, Novak barely said anything to him. Then Burke went out and played the best game of his young career.
"The kid, he's awesome," Novak said. "I don't know what else to say."
So it was little surprise that, when Michigan needed big plays at the end of the game, Burke provided them. He forced Appling, considered one of the top point guards in the Big Ten, into a backcourt violation. By that point, Appling looked exhausted, worn down by the game and by Burke.
"I had to play Keith Appling so many minutes," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "By the end he was just walking on his knees."
Burke said after the game he wasn't all that tired.
He orchestrated the game winner, too, grabbing a long Appling miss, driving the court and finding Douglass for a wide-open layup.
It is becoming an expected day's work for Burke, who initially committed to Penn State before decommitting to sign with Michigan. Now just try to imagine the Wolverines without him.
"I just felt I had to make big plays," Burke said. "Coach [John] Beilein told me one of my jobs was to make big plays tonight and get the team what we want every time down.
He added: "I can't say I was the best player out there. There were times where I just knew I had to make a play."
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.