The 2019-20 version of the Michigan Wolverines (12-8, 4-6 B1G) enjoy playing at home and they struggle to play well on the road. But they sure do love themselves a neutral site bout, defeating No. 25 Rutgers (16-6, 7-4 B1G) by a score of 69-63 in a March-like environment at Madison Square Garden.
Brandon Johns led the way for the Wolverines with a career-high 20 points and for the second game in a row had the best game of his college career, setting the tone for the Wolverines throughout the night. Jon Teske had 13 points and seven rebounds of his own on the night, while Franz Wagner chipped in with 10 points and six rebounds. Zavier Simpson started at point guard and was back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension. He finished the game with nine points, 10 assists, six turnovers and three steals.
This is normally the part of our recap where I run you through what happened and what led to the victory, but the official stats are totally screwed up because whoever was running them in the second half counted every basket as a three-pointer. How that happens in a major conference game in one of the sport’s most prestigious venues, I am not sure.
Does anyone know what the actual score is pic.twitter.com/W2Voj4fNzY— Maize n Brew (@MaizenBrew) February 1, 2020
The official statistician must have had to run to the restroom and pulled someone from the crowd to fill in and then just never came back pic.twitter.com/tZR0ijiBrw— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) February 1, 2020
The TV broadcast had the score and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters here.
So with that out of the way, here are the takeaways.
- Johns had another terrific game and that might be a good trend for the Wolverines. Anything that happens in the vacuum of one contest is one thing, but this is the second-game in a row where he has looked like a legitimate difference maker and gave Michiga what it needed on offense, especially from the perimeter, with Isaiah Livers once again out. His game was so raw coming out of high school and even deep into this season, but if this is a sign that he is figuring it out and ready to continue being a big-time performer, this team could certainly be primed for a jump in the last month and change of the regular season.
- There were points in this game where the offense looked as good as it has all season long with crisp passes and converting on good looks from the perimeter and the return of Simpson had some to do with that. One more than a handful of key baskets in this game, Simpson was right on the money with some of his passes and guys like Johns, Teske and Austin Davis finished their drives with authority at the rim. On the flip side, Simpson was definitely feeling himself at times later on in the game with some lazy and errant passes that led to turnovers that in turn gave Rutgers new life. Juwan Howard has not been able to reel him in like John Beilein was, so this is kind of just what he is right now, but his role on Saturday for the most part worked. This team is a lot better when it does not need to lean on him to create offense and he can instead be a distributor.
- It won’t show up in the box score (nothing will right now, because the box score in the immediate aftermath of the game is a disaster), but Eli Brooks had some huge plays down the stretch to save this game for Michigan. There was a point where in back-to-back possessions he cashed in with a three-pointer and then took a charge to help the cause. People online give him a hard time, but those are winning plays and he is really coming into his own as a veteran presence on this basketball team.
- Howard and his coaching staff need to figure out a way to close out these halves of basketball much better than they have. It was great to see Michigan make free throws to seal the victory, but they probably should not have been in that situation late in the game. They had Rutgers on the ropes and let them back into the game on a day where they really did not play as well as they have recently. Rutgers also killed Michigan on the boards. There’s a bit of a killer instinct lacking with this team right now, but you’d rather win this type of game than lose it.
- This is an absolutely massive win for Michigan. KenPom had it as a projected loss and it was basically a road environment with Rutgers fans showing out in huge numbers on Saturday afternoon. Michigan checked off both boxes this week against Nebraska and the Scarlet Knights in games that challenged them in very different ways with the season at a crossroads after last week. They get two cracks at their biggest rivals next week with both Ohio State and Michigan State coming to Crisler Center on Tuesday and Saturday. Splitting those games would be good, but winning them both might give us something different to talk about this time next week.