Well that was one of the ugliest college basketball games you’ll ever see, but the Michigan Wolverines did enough to win in the end on the road against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Michigan only made 31.5% of it’s field goals, its lowest shooting percentage in a win since 2007. And despite a slow start, putrid shooting and questionable perimeter defense, Michigan avoided dropping an obvious trap game, closed the contest out well and knocked down key free throws to secure the victory.
Here are some takeaways from the rock fight.
Lethargic start, but crucial run to end first half saved U-M
ESPN mentioned on the broadcast Michigan’s shootaround was at 11 a.m., giving Michigan more than eight hours to do homework and nap before the 9 p.m. tipoff.
The Wolverines didn’t really wake up from their naps until the end of the first half. They struggled on both sides of the floor, forcing shots and not getting to the paint on offense while giving up some blow-by buckets on some terrible perimeter closeouts.
After the lethargic start, Michigan had it’s most important stretch of the game, closing the first half on a 10-0 run to tie the game going into the break.
Brandon Johns Jr. was a big part of that run, splashing a corner three and finishing a dump down on a nice pass from DeVante’ Jones. After some inconsistent play, getting benched halfway through the year and being in Juwan Howard’s dog house since the Northwestern game, it was nice to see the senior forward make some important contributions in this one.
Michigan is far from perfect, but do close out games well
Neither team could throw a beach ball into the ocean in the second half; only 47 total points were scored and neither team made even a quarter of their shots in the final 20 minutes.
Despite not shooting the ball well, the Wolverines did just enough to pull this one out down the stretch. After getting burned in man defense more than a few times in the first half, Michigan played in a matchup zone for a good portion of the second half, confusing the Nittany Lions and forcing a few key turnovers.
Hunter Dickinson had a down game by his standards offensively. He was huge on the boards with a game-high 15 rebounds. He also had a team-high 19 points, including some key post buckets late, but was only 6-of-20 for the field and forced a lot of shots with Penn State staying physical inside.
The calming presence of Eli Brooks was evident in this one, as The Professor’s pristine play was crucial down the stretch. He had 16 points and made seven of his eight free throws to ice the victory.
The Wolverines won this game when they started attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. They made their shots from the charity stripe count, going 19-for-22 (86.4%).
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for this team, but they’ve been steady late in games. They did enough to win ugly games like this one and last week’s home victory against Nebraska, and they certainly made Purdue sweat down the stretch of Saturday’s loss.
The Wolverines still need a few big wins to get into the NCAA Tournament, but if they can remain calm and play solid late in games, they might be able to steal a few games against ranked conference opponents.
No time to rest up after this one
It doesn’t get easier for the Wolverines after this one, as they have two big home games to close out the week, facing Purdue again on Thursday (9 p.m. tipoff on ESPN) before the Buckeyes come to town two days later (6 p.m. tipoff on ESPN).
While it’s never fun to face two tough opponents back-to-back, Michigan has a chance to earn two Quad 1 victories to close out the week, which would certainly turn heads with the tournament selection committee.
If Michigan can pull off two upsets this week, the path to the tournament gets a little easier. If Michigan loses both or win one and lose the other in a blowout, it might as well make travel plans for the NIT in Virginia Beach now.