It was ugly. It was hideous. It was a win.
Despite being a 24-point favorite according to the Vegas sportsbooks, Michigan (16-5, 6-2 Big Ten) sputtered to a 68-57 victory against Rutgers (6-15, 0-8 Big Ten) at the Crisler Center on Wednesday. The Wolverines missed numerous open threes in the first half (6-of-18 3FG), refused to attack more inside (57.1 3PA%) against the Big Ten's worst two-point defense, and were lethargic on defense. However, because it was against Rutgers, a team that is historically bad in the Big Ten and had lost its first seven conference games by an average of more than 25 points, it didn't come back to bite Michigan in the behind.
The Wolverines had four double-digit scorers, led by Duncan Robinson's game-high 18 points. However, it wasn't the typical shooting display from the three-point sniper. He knocked down only 5-of-14 field goals (4-of-9 3FG) and even threw up a couple of airballs. Boosted by another strong second half, Derrick Walton, Jr. had 14 points, four assists, and three rebounds, while Aubrey Dawkins and Mark Donnal added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Plus, though Zak Irvin didn't reach double-digit points due to a poor shooting night from deep (1-of-6 3FG), he was in range of earning his first career triple-double, registering eight points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists in an all-around effort.
The game was ugly from the tip. The Wolverines permitted Rutgers to score the first six points and didn't grab the lead until the 4:50 mark of the first half when two Donnal free throws made it 22-20 Michigan. They were in that position, though, thanks to Dawkins, who provided a spark off the bench and tallied eight straight points for U-M in four trips to knot the game at 20 apiece. After Donnal's freebies, Michigan maintained its advantage until the final buzzer but couldn't pull away. Anytime Michigan extended its lead to double digits, Rutgers would punch right back. The punch never was strong enough to threaten Michigan at the end because the Scarlet Knights would squander their opportunities by throwing wild shots off the glass and committing 14 turnovers.
No sequence exemplified this more than in the final minute. Irvin went to the line to shoot a one-and-one as Michigan clung to a 65-57 lead. Irvin missed the freebie, meaning that Rutgers had a chance to make this a two-score game and put some pressure on Michigan. But what happens? Greg Lewis, believing that Irvin had another free throw coming, just hands the ball to the referee standing out of bounds on the baseline:
Video: Rutgers player doesn't realize it's a one-and-one, throws live ball out of bounds for a turnover: pic.twitter.com/RZpFzUNr6n— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) January 28, 2016
Michigan gets the ball back, knocks down its two free throws, and wins by 11 points.
This was an opponent that Michigan could not escape, and it was all too familiar to the Wolverines' uncomfortable 74-69 home win against winless Minnesota last week. Maybe Michigan is talented enough to go through the motions at home against teams like the Gophers and Scarlet Knights and still win. But these are not good habits to develop, and Michigan has a neutral-site contest against Penn State at Madison Square Garden on Saturday before it dives into the teeth of its schedule in the month of February. The Wolverines need to get ready and be prepared for a dogfight game in and game out.
And that begins by burning the tape of this game and pretending it never happened.