The Michigan Wolverines came into Wednesday night’s rematch with Rutgers looking to hand the Scarlet Knights their first loss at home season season and stretch their record all-time against them to 13-0. Mission accomplished, as the Wolverines moved to 17-9 and 8-7 in Big Ten play on the season with a 60-52 win at the RAC to sweep the season series and grab a road win in a hostile environment.
Michigan was without junior forward Isaiah Livers in this game after he suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s win over Indiana. He was in a walking boot and street clothes in Piscataway. It was the 10th time this season the Wolverines were without their best all-around player, but the pieces left behind stepped up once again.
Zavier Simpson — who scored Michigan’s first six points of the game from three-point range — finished the night with 16 points, five assists and six rebounds. Franz Wagner has 12 points and eight rebounds, while David DeJulius chimed in with 10 points off the bench.
The Wolverines shot 44.7 percent from the floor (26.1 percent from three) and were outrebounded 37-34 by the Scarlet Knights, but every time Rutgers made a play, it seemed as if Michigan had an answer. Both teams had leads of nine at one point during Wednesday’s game.
Michigan started hot in the opening 20 minutes before shots stopped falling and the RAC crowd continued to fuel the effort of the home team. Rutgers would get a three-pointer from Geo Baker at the halftime buzzer to help the Scarlet Knights take a 31-28 lead into the locker room.
The two teams would continue to battle throughout the second half with Rutgers at one point taking a nine-point lead, but Michigan stormed right back in an effort that was fueled by the play of Colin Castleton — who was forced into action due to foul trouble with Brandon Johns — and DeJulius off the bench, both giving Michigan critical plays in key moments when their numbers were called on. The play that essentially sealed the game for the Wolverines came from Eli Brooks, who it a three-pointer from the top of the key as the shot clock was expiring with 3:25 to go. He would later put an exclamation point on the win with a dunk late.
- What an incredible victory for Michigan this one is. We told you the stats they were up against in the intro and something had to give in this one and thankfully, it came out to be a huge resume-boosting win for the Wolverines. This one shot them up to No. 12 on KenPom and they are an Ayo Dosunmu buzzer-beater vs. Illinois and Zavier Simpson strange flagrant foul vs. Ohio State from being on an eight-game winning streak at the moment. The game that preceded that was one of the worst efforts of the season in a loss to Penn State. Juwan Howard and has team seem to have used that as a turning point with our without Livers back in the lineup.
- This may not have been one of the better statistical performances of Simpson’s career, but it ranks right up there as one of the most critical. The assist totals were lower than they should be simply because he was throwing terrific passes to guys who just flat-out missed their shots. Simpson set a tone early and while he is not someone that you always want taking on a bigger share of shot attempts, he did what he had to do on a night without Livers and his performance was crucial in securing the victory.
- I cannot throw enough praise the way of Castleton and DeJulius for how they performed off the bench in this game. Castleton was the most notable of the two given that he seemed to have fallen out of the rotation as the season has gone on, but sometimes you just have to be ready. That was the case tonight with Livers out and Johns dealing with foul trouble. Given that Castleton was spotted after Sunday’s game putting extra work in as Crisler were cleaning, it’s pretty cool that his efforts were rewarded with an opportunity on Wednesday night.
- It’s pretty remarkable that Wagner is Michigan’s best rebounder on a team that also features Jon Teske, Austin Davis, Johns, Castleton, etc. Some people will take this as a slight against the other players, but Wagner has brought it in that part of his game consistently. His offensive game continues to come together as well, which is a blast to watch happen. There is still so much more to unlock in his skill-set.
- The Gonzaga win is going to hold up obviously and stands out as Michigan’s most notable of the season, but is this the second-best? It sure feels like it, especially given Rutgers’ home record and the fact that their other two road wins came at Nebraska and Northwestern. Splitting this one and Saturday’s game at Purdue felt like that would be ok, but now if you’re able to split road contests at Purdue and Ohio State down the stretch, then they’ll really be playing with house money here. This is not a bubble team anymore assuming they do not bottom out, but it seems like the slump has been worked out of their systems. The question from here is not if Michigan gets in, but what it can continue to do to move up in the seeding lines.
Next up for Michigan is a road trip to Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana for a rematch with the Purdue Boilermakers. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.