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Michigan 79, Penn State 56: Lighting It Up Without LeVert

Caris LeVert missed Saturday's game with a lower leg injury, but the Wolverines still flourished on offense in a 79-56 win against Penn State.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

An offensive onslaught by Michigan is nothing new.

Doing it without senior star Caris LeVert? That is.

A first-half offensive explosion carried Michigan (12-3, 2-0 B1G) to a 79-56 win against Penn State (9-6, 0-2 B1G) at the Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon. Despite missing their first four shots and not scoring in the first three minutes, the Wolverines poured in 49 points in the first half, averaging 1.58 points per possession and registering an eFG% of 82.8 percent, to take a 21-point lead into the intermission. Not only did they do this against a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten defense, they did it without LeVert, who sat out with a lower left leg injury that he suffered against Illinois  this past Wednesday.

Almost everyone stepped up in LeVert's absence. Zak Irvin finally found his outside shot (4-of-6 3P) and continued to create on offense like he did at the end of last season, posting 16 points, seven assists, and three rebounds. Mark Donnal proved that the Illinois game wasn't a fluke, scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who started in place of LeVert, and Aubrey Dawkins recorded 14 and 13 points, respectively. And Duncan Robinson, who didn't have the shooting touch that he usually does (9 points on 3-of-8 three-point shooting), picked up the slack as a passer (6 assists). Only Derrick Walton had an off game (6 points, 6 TOs).

At first, it looked like offense was going to have problems against Penn State's defense. The Nittany Lions' length and interior defense were stymying Michigan's offensive flow and bothering Walton in particular. However, the Wolverines started to heat up from three, scoring their first 18 points on six triples. And the perimeter shooting didn't stop there because they drilled 7-of-8 threes for one stretch and 10-of-15 threes in the first half. With Michigan firing from outside, Penn State had little choice but to extend out on U-M's shooters. But Michigan capitalized by slicing Penn State's defense inside with crisp passes and excellent finishes at the rim. After missing their first four two-pointers, the Wolverines closed out the half by making nine of their last 10. As a result, with Penn State struggling to score over Michigan's defenders on the other end, Michigan used a 27-6 run in a span of 6:54 to turn an 11-6 deficit into a 33-17 lead with 7:38 left and a 49-28 lead at halftime. From there, Michigan put it in cruise control and coasted to the win.

A win like this with LeVert would have been impressive.

Doing it without LeVert? It's hard to imagine a better outcome.

Now the question is if LeVert will be healthy enough to play next week because the schedule is about to stiffen up. The Wolverines travel to West Lafayette on Thursday to challenge an excellent Purdue team. Michigan may have been able to thrive at home against PSU without LeVert. It'd be hard to expect a repeat on the road against Purdue.