Photo Credit: AP / AnnArbor.com
It wasn’t flawless but it was the response that Michigan needed after a deflating home loss to Purdue. Losing your first two Big Ten games at home is a recipe for disaster and Michigan needed this one more than they would care to admit – especially with Wisconsin, Kansas, and Ohio State next on the docket. If Michigan didn’t have their backs to the wall before the game, they did by half time.
Michigan was barely able to slow down the Penn State offense in the first half as they quickly fell behind. Talor Battle and David Jackson were a combined 11 of 15 for 27 points in the first and Michigan didn’t seem to have an answer as they fell behind by as many as nine points and were lucky to be down just five headed into intermission.
The second half was a different story as Michigan outscored Penn State 45-33. The defensive effort was improved in the second half; evidenced by the Nittany Lions 1.06 points per trip in the second stanza, down from 1.28 in the first. But it was the Wolverine offense that was nearly perfect. Michigan scorched the nets in the second half to the tune of 1.45 points per possession with a 72% eFG% – 79% on twos and 56% on threes. The attack was balanced as Michigan picked up points from a variety of contributors and six different Wolverines made a field goal. But at the end of the day it was Morris (8 second half assists) and Novak (15 second half points) that were the catalysts for the offensive explosion.
Putting all the numbers aside, Michigan won this game because they executed in the clutch. The Wolverines got just enough key stops, big baskets, and big free throws down the stretch. Last year’s squad routinely lost games similar to this one that were there for the taking, even at home. They made just three field goals in the final 10 minutes versus Penn State and let a Northwestern win slip away with a Drew Crawford backdoor layup. This is a game that Michigan would have lost last season. Today, eight of Michigan’s final nine possessions resulted in at least two points as Michigan outscored Penn State 19-10 over the final four minutes of play.
Penn State isn’t the best that the Big Ten has to offer — they only have three legitimate offensive options – but Talor Battle is liable to win any game single handedly. Battle got his (31 points on 20 shots) but Michigan was able to hold David Jackson and Jeff Brooks close to their averages while the four other Nittany Lions that saw playing time had just 7 points on 2 of 7 shooting in 88 minutes combined.
The next 10 days will certainly be a struggle, as Pomeroy gives Michigan a 13% chance or less at winning each of their next three games. Coincidentally, each game gets slightly tougher and all three are probably a tougher test than Michigan has faced all season long. On the other hand, they also present a golden opportunity if Michigan is able to put everything together for 40 minutes.
Photo Credit: AP / AnnArbor.com
- Darius Morris: He’s not perfect but I challenge anyone to show me a more improved player in the conference – or even the country. 20 points on 6 of 10 shooting with 10 assists and four turnovers. There are still frustrating possessions that end up in turnovers (4) or bad shots, but Morris was terrific today. 7 of 7 from the free throw line isn’t half bad for a guy that shot just 63% from the stripe last season.
- Zack Novak: Novak played 13 minutes, picked up two fouls, and didn’t attempt a shot or grab a rebound in the first half. He responded with his best half of the season: 15 points on 5 of 6 (2-3 3pt) shooting with 4 rebounds. He had two huge baskets in transition that were simply a product of running the floor harder than anyone else. The smile he let out after his last made three was a look of relief and can hopefully be the spark to get his shooting going (33% on the year).
- Stu Douglass: His improvement is overshadowed by Darius but it is evident. He’s as close to an automatic three point shooter as Michigan has, 45% on the year, and he’s been more aggressive taking the ball to the hole, even if he hasn’t always been successful (0-3 on twos today). He’s the sixth man but seems to be comfortable there and he is closing games which is what is truly important.
- Jordan Morgan: Almost a double double with 10 points (5-7 fg) and 9 rebounds, Morgan was efficient and played hard. Morgan outplayed Andrew Jones, a 5th year senior, by a wide margin. His scoring is still mostly opportunistic in nature but he was aggressive the couple times he got traditional post touches – his eight defensive boards were also a season best.
- Evan Smotrycz: He’s still primarily a three point shooter — 2 of 5 today — but Evan did a little more today. He grabbed 6 rebounds (after not grabbing a single board vs. Purdue) and also was a little more aggressive offensively including a nice drive and finish. That’s not to say he didn’t have his freshman moments, most of his three turnovers were careless and unforced.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich has provided an opportune spark several times for Michigan and today was no different — he hit a three that tied the game at 39 before quickly picking up a steal that began to stretch Michigan’s lead. It was his pump fake, drive, and finish with the foul that gave Michigan the final lead that they would never relinquish.
- Jon Horford: He only played four minutes, as Michigan opted to play Smotrycz as the backup five in the second half, but he was productive with 4 points on 2-2 shooting, a block, and a turnover.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.:He does just enough to tease you – whether it’s being aggressive running the break and dropping off a nice pass or finally hitting a nice mid-range jumper – but he still has his freshman moments. He looked like a freshman today with three assists and two turnovers today with 1 of 4 (0-3 3pt) shooting for 2 points.