No. 4 Michigan 79, Penn State 71: Rededication

Trey "Planck" Burke - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After going 1-3 during the Four-game Stretch of Doom, the Wolverines looked to get back on track Sunday against the last place Nittany Lions. After 20 minutes of play, it was clear that this wouldn't be the comfortable cruise control win that many expected.

With the last place team in the conference coming into the Crisler Center as a 25-point underdog, anything other than a smashing victory would have been somewhat disappointing.

Through the first five minutes, PSU stuck with Michigan, holding a 9-8 lead going into the first TV timeout. It was still too early to start fashioning some sort of worry out of this, but Trey Burke once again carried Michigan to start, scoring seven of Michigan's first eight points. Burke nailed a couple of threes, made a nice finish in transition and broke down a PSU defender from up top. As mercurial as Michigan's freshmen can be, you might as well call Trey "Planck" because he's constant.

Unfortunately, nobody else was doing much of anything. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary both airballed jumpers, and Michigan doesn't have anyone threatening to create off the bounce other than Trey Burke. The Nittany Lions led 14-9 after the second timeout, having rattled off a 9-1 run with them making all the gritty, hustle plays that a 25-point underdog needs to do to survive through the first 20 minutes.

Through nine minutes, Burke was the only Wolverine with a made field goal. However, things were even less pleasant on the defensive end. On one set, guard Nick Colella went from the right side to his left, driving to the rim unimpeded and somehow not getting swatted by McGary. I think it's safe to say that not many people predicted Michigan would be down by eight at any point in this game; but, here they were.

PSU was the aggressor, as Michigan fired away from outside, mostly missing. Another Burke three from the same corner as the first one cut the lead to 18-14, but it was Michigan's first field goal in about seven minutes. Hardaway hit his patented free throw line jumper at the 8:23 mark, the first non-Burke field goal of the game.

Michigan was once again looking terrifyingly one-dimensional, Stauskas was 0/3 from beyond the arc and PSU was making all of the little plays that it seems like Michigan hasn't made in some time.

On the bright side, Glenn Robinson III awoke from his slumber, slamming down a pair of dunks about a minute apart, the latter on a quite crunkly no look pass from McGary.

It was nice to see GRIII get on the stat sheet in a big way in this first half, but otherwise it was a half to forget. Michigan could not defend against a PSU team playing without two of its key offensive contributors for long stretches due to foul trouble. We already knew this, but to see it happen against the worst team in the conference is a little disheartening (even if it is just the first half).

Halftime Stats (Michigan 32, Penn State 32)

Michigan PPP: 1.05

  • Burke: 5/9, 14 pts
  • GRIII: 2/2 (4/6 from the FT line), 8 pts, 4 rebounds
  • Stauskas: 1/4, 6 pts, 4/4 from the FT line

Penn State PPP: 1.03

  • Marshall: 3/5, 9 pts
  • Borovnjak: 3/4, 7 pts
  • Travis: 2/4, 7 pts, 6 rebounds
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The Wolverines came out with a little more urgency in the second frame, scoring the first six points to take a 38-32 lead. A beautiful Jon Horford back screen led directly to another GRIII dunk on the first bucket; at this point, if GRIII has dunked a basketball in a given game, the odds are pretty good that Michigan will win said game.

Unfortunately, Michigan's sieve of a defense reared its head again, as PSU tied it up, 38-38, in a D.J. Newbill and-1 and a Brandon Taylor three. Despite the 6-0 Wolverine run, it seemed like the Nittany Lions wouldn't go away unless foul trouble forced Newbill or Jermaine Marshall to sit for an extended period of time (as they did in the first).

Michigan charged out to a 9-point lead, less than four minutes after PSU tied it at 38. GRIII was having a tremendous game, helping Michigan build its lead after yet another dunk (an alley oop assisted by Stauskas) and an and-1 after grabbing an offensive rebound and driving to the hole with a purpose.

Shortly thereafter, Burke tossed a beautiful alley oop to GRIII, which he slammed down to the crowd's approval. As great as this was, all positive feelings were summarily squandered, as the Wolverine defense gave up buckets on two straight possessions, including a Colella three to cut it to 53-50. If there was ever a time for Michigan to run away with the game, it was at this juncture.

On a personnel note, John Beilein sent out Matt Vogrich for a brief stretch spelling Nik Stauskas. There's a reason why he got passed up on the depth chart, but it's still nice to see a senior player get in and log some meaningful minutes.

In any case, Michigan was up just one, at home, against Penn State, with nine minutes to go. This is the opposite of tremendous. Michigan started to turn it on again, building a 9-point lead after THJ's first trey of the game. Penn State continued to stick around, down just six with under two minutes to go. However, kind of like last year's game in Happy Valley, Michigan was just too much and PSU just didn't have enough.

Penn State was eviscerated by Trey Burke (9/16, tying his season high of 29 points), Glenn Robinson III (ALL THE DUNKS) and free throws, of which Michigan attempted a season high 35. When Michigan is getting to the line that frequently, well, you're not going to win.

There are a few ways to think about an outing like this. 1) The Big Ten is tough, and a win is a win, whether you're playing Indiana or Penn State. 2) Michigan needed a game like this to "wake up." 3) Michigan has some serious issues that could get exposed come tourney time.

In truth, it's probably some combination of the three. It wasn't pretty, but Michigan moved to 9-4 in the conference, two games behind IU and MSU with just five games left on the schedule. It was a treat to watch Trey Burke go to work, and we would all do well to remember that he won't be wearing a Michigan jersey for much longer. His ability to split double teams, spin and dart around any and all comers, finish with a floater or off the glass or on the pull-up jumper, is quite simply a joy to watch.

For all of the commotion about the freshmen, this team is still unquestionably Trey Burke's to lead, to drive forward into tournament play. Yes, it was just Penn State, but performances like today quickly remind you what one of the best players in the country at the height of his powers looks like.
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