Penn State had all the momentum against Michigan on Wednesday night. After trailing by 14 points heading into the TV timeout around the 8:00 mark of the second half, the Nittany Lions went on a 15-4 run in more than six game minutes, chopping the lead to as little as three heading into crunch time.
It had all the makings of a blown lead and another disappointing loss for the Wolverines, until freshman point guard Dug McDaniel hit the biggest shot of his young Michigan career, coming off a screen and hitting a floater to make it 74-69 with a minute left. Penn State didn’t score again and Michigan won by 10.
McDaniel poured in 12 points and tallied four rebounds, four assists and a steal in yet another solid performance. He has improved drastically since the season started and has stepped up in a bigger role. Since taking over the starting spot after Jaelin Llewellyn’s season-ending injury, McDaniel has played 31 minutes per game and has averaged 8.2 points and 4.2 assists while helping Michigan to a 4-2 record in that stretch.
“He has a chip (on his shoulder), he’s also a smart player,” head coach Juwan Howard said after the win. “He’s aggressive, there’s going top be some times as a freshman where you make mistakes on the floor. I just see that with the ball in his hands, we know he’s going to make the right play.”
McDaniel spoke about that chip after the Penn State win, saying he feels more comfortable after getting more minutes under his belt.
“It’s definitely slowed down, but you know a player like me, I’m always hungry,” McDaniel said. “A player like me, coming from where I come from, my physique, my appearance, I can never be comfortable. I’m always hungry, always ready to take on the next task and it shows. Next man is always up, I got to be hungry and ready.”
Speaking to the media Friday morning, associate head coach Phil Martelli also spoke about McDaniel’s improvements since Llewellyn’s injury, and it all starts with him being better during practice.
“(McDaniel has developed) better practice habits,” Martelli said. “I thought in the summer, he was really interested in playing. In this program, you really need to be interested in practicing. Every single day, whether it’s film study, keeping yourself organized throughout the day so you’re not scrambling. Him having himself together day-by-day has really raised his level. From a basketball (perspective), his defensive disposition has changed dramatically since that first game against Eastern Michigan.”
Michigan has struggled closing out close games this year, as its last four losses are to Virginia (two-point margin), Kentucky (four points), North Carolina (four points) and Central Michigan (two points). Michigan was able to survive against Penn State Wednesday night.
“Down the stretch, we always have that tough deal with keeping a lead,” McDaniel said. “The fact that we fought through adversity today, we learned from our previous mistakes. Previously in the season, you’d see how the outcomes would come out with a game that close. You could tell we learned from our mistakes, we’re closing out games and it’s evident on the court, we’ve put in behind the scenes.”
Prepping for MSU
Learning how to win those tight games is crucial, especially in a rivalry game against Michigan State coming up tomorrow. Hunter Dickinson hasn’t been shy about his thoughts on MSU on his podcast, and embracing one of the best rivalries in college sports.
“It’ll be a fun one, for sure,” Dickinson said. “That’s what this rivalry is all about, big-time games. There’s a lot of history in that matchup; it’s just funny how a kid from D.C. has gotten into this matchup and so involved in it. I love the rivalry, I love everything about it, that’s what’s fun about sports. It’s amazing and I can’t wait for Saturday.”
“They don’t like us and we don’t like them. It’s not like I was going in their (singing) Kumbaya with the fans.”
Michigan State is 10-4, and 2-1 in the conference with a loss to Northwestern. The Spartans played a tough non-conference schedule, where they beat Kentucky and Oregon but lost to two of the top teams in Gonzaga and Alabama. They also had a blowout loss to Notre Dame.
Martelli saw this rivalry from afar in his years in Pennsylvania and knew how big a deal it is, but now realizes how intense the rivalry is having been a part of it.
“Having been involved in it for four years, it’s much more amped up than I had the idea of,” Martelli said. “It’s palpable. It’s not just these players, but former players come back, this is what they talk about. I just did Michigan State radio, and they said ‘how will Dug McDaniel handle it’ and I go ‘I don’t know if he’s ever played on a court that’s shaking when he’s dribbling.’ How do you prepare for that? It’s real.
“It’s really, really, really cool. And to me, college basketball should be about memories. And this game, and the game in Ann Arbor, and hopefully the third game in the Big Ten Tournament, these are the games that create memories for a lifetime.”
Even with how well Michigan has played this past week, this will be a tough road test. Martelli emphasized they need to have the same mindset as Joe Louis or Mike Tyson.
“You better go in there with a boxer’s mentality,” Martelli said “There’s no boxer out there that hasn’t walked into one of their bouts and didn’t have it in their head ‘I’m going to get hit.’ Our players have to realize they are going to get hit, and that point in time they have two choices: They can cover up and cower up, or they can hit back. I’m betting on hitting back.
“The toughest, nastiest boxer walks out of the ring. The toughest, nastiest team needs to walk out of the Breslin Center tomorrow with a win.”