The argument can be made that Michigan senior point guard and team captain, Derrick Walton Jr., played the game of his lift against Michigan State Tuesday night.
Finishing the game with 20 points and 8 assists, Walton has been on an absolute tear as of late, nearly willing the team to victory over Ohio State on his own when the shots aren't falling for anyone else. For an inner city kid, Walton was born and raised on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. He knows all about it, he knows the players and he knows what's at stake regardless where either team lies in the standings.
Whether he agrees with the statement that he played the best game of his life or not, Walton understands the magnitude of Tuesday night's big win.
"No but I'm going to be honest, it meant a lot to me," Walton said. "I'm an inner-city kid, there's a lot of Michigan kids on their team and having the bragging rights over my little guy Cassius (Winston) is always fun. Going forward, I hope that X can carry the torch and get wins like this in the future."
As a freshman and sophomore, Walton saw regular success against the Spartans as a bench role player. Now, fast forward two years, Tuesday could possibly the final time he plays MSU as a Wolverine. Walton says his experience as a senior didn't translate to the court based on his age, it was the will to win.
The hunger, if you will, to lead a team to victory over an in-state rival.
"I don't think my year makes a difference," Walton said. "When I was a freshman, I played my heart out. I played my heart out for the Indiana games, just knowing how much it means for guys from their home state playing against their home state school just makes the stakes that much higher... I haven't celebrated a win against Michigan State since Stauskas, LeVert and Morgan being a complimentary guy. Being a leader of this team, knowing that I helped them to a win, it means so much to us as a program. As an in-state school, it feels great."
With the season winding down, the Wolverines have zero wiggle room in terms of making the tournament in March. Tuesday night was an excellent start for the Wolverines but it will have to keep going with the schedule growing increasingly more difficult. As one of the captains of the team, Walton says the team needs to find consistency regardless whether the shots are falling or not.
"I think with the approach every single game like it means this much to you, nights when the ball is not falling then there can still be positive results," Walton said. "I think our approach needs to be a lot more consistent and I think that it will make all the difference for us."