The Wolverines settled in as 21.5-point favorites heading into the game, providing Michigan fans with ample opportunity for over-analysis and doubt: could they really do it again against a Big Ten opponent?
Unlike the Iowa game, Michigan did not concede a 7-0 start from its opponent, instead jumping out to a 5-2 lead through about four minutes of play. Both teams couldn't quite buy a bucket in the early stages. On one possession, the on-the-ball Nebraska defense was so tight that both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke fell down and had to pass the ball away. On two consecutive possessions shortly thereafter, Trey Burke attempted a long three from the top of the key and Nik Stauskas took a relatively wide open look from the left wing. Both were misses, but Michigan did pick up a couple of offensive boards early to mitigate the cool shooting start.
Despite Michigan's noted ability to explode for points in a short stretch, there was a sense early that maybe Michigan might not reach that 90+ point plateau tonight, which, if you read that again sounds kind of like that the person you went to school with who claimed to always be "failing" despite boasting a 4.0 GPA.
Annoying vaguely passive-aggressive arrogance aside, Nebraska was hanging tough early. At about the 13:00 mark, Brandon Ubel hit a jumper from 16-17 feet to put the 'Huskers up 10-9. THJ answered back with a jumper of his own with the shot clock winding down, but Ubel converted on a nice drive with his left hand to retake the lead.
Burke and Talley hit a three each at the 8:39 and 7:30 marks, respectively, to bring the score to 18-15 Michigan about 12.5 minutes in. BTN commentator Greg Kelser noted that Nebraska was "dodging bullets," and it certainly felt that way even as Michigan struggled from the field. Of course, as we all know it simply takes one of those patented super-runs from Michigan to put the game out of reach, it was simply a matter of when. The Wolverines had already amassed six offensive boards in just 14 minutes of play; it was just a matter of making them count.
I felt that the Stauskas and-1 would've marked the start of said run, but Ray Gallegos answered with a contested trey and Shavon Shields received a nice feed just outside of the paint en route to an easy layup to bring the deficit to just one for Nebraska, two plays sandwiching an airballed Spike Albrecht right corner three.
With just over three minutes left in the half, it appeared as if The Run would have to come in the second half. This half was essentially a win for the Huskers. It was a demonstration of what happens when: a) Michigan's outside shots do not fall and b) the pick and roll game is shut down almost entirely due to solid on the ball D.
Jordan Morgan had zero points (on zero attempts) heading into the half and Michigan had assisted just one of its 10 makes, with one of them coming on an in bounds set.
Halftime Stats (Michigan 25, Nebraska 20)
Michigan PPP: 0.87
- GRIII: 3/4, 8 pts, 3 rebounds
- Burke: 3/9, 7 pts, 1 assist
- THJ: 3/8, 6 pts, 3 rebounds
Nebraska PPP: 0.73
- Shields: 3/6, 6 points, 5 rebounds
- Talley: 1/3, 5 pts
- Ubel; 2/6, 4 pts, 3 rebounds
After one the uglier 20-minute stretches of play this season, the Wolverines looked to find themselves in position for the championship fighter's flurry of knockout-inducing punches.
Unfortunately, Nebraska came out firing from beyond the arc, with Gallegos and Talley nailing a three each, while Burke and GRIII failed to convert on a pair of and-1 opportunities (GRIII only made 1-of-2 at the line). After another pair of points from Talley, a corner three from Stauskas and a THJ layup in transition gave Michigan its biggest lead of the game (38-26).
Fortunately, Michigan entered the 1-and-1 at the 13:17 mark, promising to give an uncharacteristically poorly shooting Michigan team some easy points the rest of the way.
A scramble for the ball on one Michigan possession eventually led to a corner trey for Stauskas; this time, he sunk it like has done all season to put Michigan up 43-34. The pace started to pick up as the game approached the 10 minute mark of the second half, which clearly did not behoove the 'Huskers, who had successfully deployed their style of molasses-ball to keep the Wolverines over an arm's length away, well out out knockout punch range.
A thunderous dunk following a steal and a put-back slam off of a missed LeVert trey, both from, of course, Robinson III, gave Michigan same life, even as Gallegos et al continued to keep Nebraska within reach. Michigan was up just 49-42 with under seven minutes to go, but the Wolverines answered when they needed to do so.In spite of the frigid shooting and the lack of organic offense (Michigan had just five team assists by this point), Michigan was not quite on the highway to the danger zone.
Mitch "CRUNK" McGary came up big down the stretch, with a hustle play to give Michigan the ball with the possession arrow and his first point of the night on the ensuing offensive possession. Initiate crowd energizing hand-waving.
A Gallegos and-1 brought the lead down to eight with 2:32 to go, but the 'Huskers didn't have enough time to make up the rest of the deficit. However, credit must go to Tim Miles' squad: they had a gameplan and executed it nearly to perfection. This is a program to keep an eye on as Miles racks up a few more years under his belt in Lincoln.
In a sense, this was an encouraging sort of win in that the Wolverines were awful from the field, the pick and roll game was mostly non-existent and the defense did not generate very many turnovers. Of course, everyone would have taken a 30+ point rout if given the option, but college basketball rarely follows just a clearly pre-ordained path.
As trite as it sounds, with a big road game in Columbus on Sunday, perhaps this was the sort of game that Michigan needed to play before taking on the squads occupying the upper half of the Big Ten. Michigan won't shoot as poorly as they did tonight, but it is comforting to know that they can still win by 15 against a conference foe when doing so.