ANN ARBOR — Michigan’s top senior had herself a night. Honored pregame with the rest of her record-setting classmates, Naz Hillmon scored 28 points to power Michigan past rival Michigan State 62-51 on Thursday night.

In the final regular-season home game for Michigan’s seniors, they completed a perfect 14-0 mark at Crisler Center this season and remained in the driver’s seat for the program’s first-ever Big Ten title.

Michigan (22-4, 13-3 in the Big Ten) visits No. 21 Iowa on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2). A victory would clinch the title for the Wolverines.

No matter how it ends, these seniors have left an indelible mark, evident again on Thursday. In addition to Hillmon’s performance, senior Emily Kiser tallied eight points and nine rebounds. Amy Dilk dished out six assists. Danielle Rauch, as she’s done her entire career, affected the game without stuffing the stat sheet.

All started, along with junior Maddie Nolan. Senior Leigha Brown, Michigan’s second leading scorer on the season, warmed up but did not play for the fifth straight game because of a lower leg injury. (She was not honored pregame as she’ll be sticking around another season.)

In front of a good-sized crowd at Crisler Center, the Wolverines started slow, grabbed a momentary lead in the second quarter, and were tied at half. They struck first in the second half and never looked back, beginning the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to build a 14-point lead. The margin never got within single digits again.

Hillmon, to nobody’s surprise, was right in the middle of it all. She scored nine of Michigan’s 10 first-quarter points and her teammates kept feeding her inside.

Michigan State had no answer and fell to 14-13 (8-8) despite Nia Clouden’s 22 points. The Spartans had won the first meeting between the rivals, 63-57 on Feb. 10 in East Lansing. On Thursday, they made just one shot in the fourth quarter.

Michigan made just 2-of-13 3-point attempts. Both makes came from Nolan, on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, to give Michigan it’s first lead. The Spartans were just 3-of-17 from deep.

Unless Ohio State and Iowa lost on Thursday, the Wolverines weren’t going to clinch a title on Thursday. They can do so in a few days in Iowa City, however.

Michigan had never gone undefeated at home for an entire regular season, so it’s fitting that this group pulled it off. This season had already seen so many firsts: a win over a top-five opponent, a top-10 (and eventually top-five) national ranking, and personal milestones.

These Wolverines, currently ranked sixth nationally, are shooting for more: A Big Ten title, a strong showing at the league tournament in Indianapolis next week, and another deep NCAA Tournament run. Michigan, which reached its first ever Sweet 16 last season, will almost certainly serve as a host for the first two rounds of this year’s event.

From the inside scoring to the offensive rebounding (13) to the solid team defense, Thursday was a typical Michigan performance.

Hillmon finished 11-of-20 from the field, added eight rebounds, and excited in the final minute to “MVP” chants.

Michigan started the second half strong by going inside to — who else? — Hillmon. She scored three quick baskets to give Michigan a 40-34 edge. Michigan’s defense, elite all season, started to frustrate Clouden late in the third quarter. She dribbled around aimlessly, leading to a shot clock violation, then got pressured near the sideline and fell out of bounds. Michigan took a 48-44 lead into the final quarter.

Michigan trailed 12-4 midway through the first quarter. At that point, the Spartans had made a two 3-pointers and Michigan had twice as many turnovers (four) as made shots. The Wolverines trailed 14-10 after the first quarter. They shot just 3-for-13 from the field, with Hillmon accounting for all but one of Michigan’s points.

Not until a few minutes into the second quarter did a Wolverine besides Hillmon make a shot. It was a layup from Izabel Varejo that got Michigan within two, 20-18, before Clouden’s third straight basket, this one a 3. Varejo gave Michigan 13 strong minutes, finishing with five points and six rebounds.

Michigan’s first basket outside the paint came on Nolan’s 3 with 4:14 left in the half. It pulled Michigan within a point, 26-25. In the time it takes to read that last sentence, she made another, giving Michigan its first lead.

Hillmon sat the final 3:16 after picking up her second foul, and her teammates held down the fort. The game was tied at 32 at half.

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On Senior Night, Naz Hillmon leads Michigan past Michigan State – MLive.com
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