Game 14: Penn State at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Photo Credit: AP /

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 /

Player Bullets:

  • 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.
  • Mith

    Thanks for the recap, Dylan!

    Whew, I’m glad they pulled this one out. Hopefully we can get one of the next three, I figure we’re good for a big upset at some point.

  • eschol54

    I’m kind of ticked about Horford. I thought we were past playing Smotrycz at the 5 unless both Horford and Morgan were in foul trouble.

    • Aaron

      Me too. We need to give Horford more minutes!

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I go back and forth… Horford has been productive but Smotrycz is a wrinkle at the five that can be useful. PSU didn’t have any back to the basket scorer so Michigan could get away from it and Evan had the ability to drive right by PSU’s fives, which he did successfully a couple times.

      Beilein said after that game that Smotrycz was doing a great job in practice against PSU’s looks and that’s why he played him. Considering he played pretty well, I think it was mostly successful.

      • Good points. Beilein is very high on Horford, so we don’t have to worry he’s being neglected. And if Smotrycz gets 6 rebounds, you can’t complain. Actually having some options at diff positions is a wonderful thing.

        Meanwhile, there was a certain tenacity on Horford’s face–to complement Novak and Douglass’s–that I was loving. Morgan brings it, too.

        • Meant to say on Morriss’s face–wish we had an edit function here.

  • JT

    Nice win today before the brutal stretch. has the KU game as a 4:30 tip.

  • champswest

    Important win. Good to see Novak have a big shooting day and Smotrycz get some rebounds. Vogrich is indeed a spark and is turning into a mini-Novak with his do-everything and hustle. Morgan had his best game in awhile. I continue to be impressed with DM’s court vision and ability to deliver the ball.

  • bskurtz

    This was a big one,but man its nice to see a bunch of guys contributing.We have Morris,Novak,Douglass,Smotrycz,Morgan,Hardaway consistantly contributing and were getting a good mins. from Vogrich and Horford off the bench and thats huge.How tough is our 5 position getting with Morgan and Horford,and to think that was suppose to be are weak spot.Does anybody have any information on Dumars?Is he good enough to come off the bench and give us some good minutes?He is just a total mystery to me.It would be nice if we could have another guy off the bench who could knock down some shots.I guess Beilein doesnt want to mess with the rotation,which is probably a good idea cause it is working.Even though we ended up getting blown out by a very good Purdue team.It was a game until the last 8 or so mins. and we played our worst game of the year.

  • AG2

    Man was this win big. I’m inclined to agree that one win in the next 3 changes the whole season. Otherwise, @ IU and @ NW are important too.

  • Colby

    Thank for the recap Dylan, did Zak Irvin show up and were there any other recruits?

  • oldblue

    I think that to be fair to Hardaway, you have to give him credit on the defensive end. He did a terrific job on Brooks in the first half. I agree, though, that Vogorich has certainly given us more on the offensive end.

  • AG2

    Also, just wanted to say congrats to the Womens’ team for beating their 3rd straight ranked team, and ending their 14 game losing streak to Ohio State!

  • Alex

    Great win and response to the Purdue game. Whatever happens the next three games it will be important for the team to control emotions.

    If we pull out a win during this stretch I will get really excited.

  • Tweeter

    Impressive win because I thought PSU played very well offensively. They were a lot crisper on offense than I expected considering some of their struggles this year. However, their defense might be the worst in the Big Ten. You could tell the difference between them and Purdue from the very first possession where we were able to easily enter the ball into our offense without a bit of pressure. They really lack any identity on D. They do not pressure, they don’t have shot blockers, they’re not great against penetration, etc. So basically despite what looks to be a very solid offensive unit, I guess I can see why they lost some games.

    I am noticing that Vogrich not only is playing much better than he was early in the year, but he also seems to have a much better grasp on what he should be doing than Hardaway. Not surprising considering he has a full year under his belt, but he does a very good job of knowing when to cut and when to spot up. Whereas I think Hardaway gets caught standing still a lot of times and allowing his man to take away the reversal. I think those two may end up in a much more even time-share at the 3 than it looked like a month ago.

    Also, I thought Darius struggled in adjusting the way he had to run the offense today as compared to Purdue. A lot of the early possessions got bogged down with endless dribbling instead of ball movement and I believe it was because against Purdue he had to force a lot of things off the dribble due to the pressure and their denials on the wing. Today, once he realized the passing lanes were open, the ball started moving and the offense worked much better. I don’t know that this team will see another team that can pressure like Purdue, maybe Kansas, but I really want to see if Beilein can find some different adjustments to attack it.

  • Brick

    I’m really looking at the next three games as three opportunities to get a resume win. I will be pretty shocked if we pull out a win but I’m hoping we keep the games close. I think it’s better to have our winnable games at the end of the schedule than the beginning so I’m glad we’re getting this run out of the way.

    • MarcO

      I agree brick, I’ll be shocked if we pull out any of the next 3. It is apparent to me how different we are athletically from the teams at the top to those at the bottom. We’re good enough to beat the bad teams and disciplined enough to compete with the mid-level teams. When we play the best teams, the deficiencies will be highlighted like they were against Purdue.

      A good win but this has level-set my expectations of this season to no more than nit as a solid accomplishment.

    • Good way to look at it.

  • Go Blue

    Nice win! All the reports in the preseason about Hardaway being the best player on the team couldnt have been this far off. Hopefully he will find his stroke and gain the confidence to be a major factor. Hes capable.

    • JimC

      Yeah he might be the best athletically, but he still looks out of control sometimes. He’s still showing a lot of potential for a true freshman.

  • Tom_McC

    Learning how to play with poise is paramount for this team…not an easy thing to do when you are constantly playing teams that are exponentially more experienced than you. Certainly, talent helps nullify the experience deficit but I was happy to see this team play with poise considering what happened vs Purdue. It’s not uncommon to see a young team to think “here we go again” when they got down 9 in the 1st half and see things go south.

    I was impressed with how, despite the deficit, the players stuck with the offense, shared the ball and stepped up to take AND make big shots. I know PSU is not a top half of the BT type of team, but I think this game will show the players that playing within the offense is key to keeping in contact with anyone they play in the BT.

    The other positive I take from this game is, I thought Penn State played pretty darn well…they hit tough and timely shots for most of the game, their best player scored 31 points, their other guys played well but still UM was able to finish them off.

    Now its time to play Wiscy on the road… a whole different challenge. I’m just taking things one game at a time…for the foreseeable future this team is going to deal with new experiences and how they deal with them will be an unknown. I’m looking forward to see them handle each situation…should be fun to watch(even if it is painful at times).

  • The Oracle

    Any chance we can get a post pinned somewhere that says Jordan Dumars will never be a major contributor here, especially these next couple years? Might cut down on some of those type questions.

    • gpsimms

      amen to that.

  • wayman britt

    Good win. Hopefully we can get one out of the next three.

    I love the way Morris has improved. Now if he could just improve on those 4 or 5 possessions where he trys to do everything himself or throws up a bad shot.

    • JimC

      Like when he tried to post-up over 3 defenders, then took an akward turnaround jumper (with no teammates anywhere near the hoop).
      That was one of the ugliest.

  • eddie

    Any word on Morris’s ankle tweak?

  • mgocanada

    Obviously a win in the next three would be amazing, but considering the gauntlet, it’s extremely unlikely. But let’s not forget that we played Syracuse pretty tight, and Syracuse is shaping up to be the Big East favourite (Wes Johnson who?) And I think it’s fair to consider just one of the ensuing two road games (IU and NW) a must-win, particularly after PSU handled Indiana in Bloomington. Indiana is not a good team despite the improvement hype. Also, when people say “Jeremiah Rivers is a great defender,” all I hear is “Jeremiah Rivers cannot hit a jump shot to save his life.”

    Also, I think it’s fair to reasonably expect ONE marquee win at some point this season, simply considering the sheer number of opportunities (WIS, @WIS, MSU, @MSU, @ILL, OSU, @OSU, @MINN, KU)… that’s a lot of opportunities, eh!!! I mean, my Blue Jays beat the yankees at least a couple times every year… play enough games and you’re bound to win one.

  • Kenny

    Morris will get better, but for this team to challenge better teams in Big Ten, THJ needs to step up on the wing.

    Wisconsin might not be the best team of the conference but it rarely gives up an upset at home. Our best chance in the next three games is Kansas at home.

  • Rothstein quotes Morris saying he’s cool with the butterfly thing–obviously a man secure in himself. Confirms my conviction that the whole dumb deal is more likely to bring ridicule on Doyle than Darius.

    • Jeff

      If “the Butterfly” doesn’t do it than “If loving Talor Battle is wrong, I don’t want to be right” should. Yes, he actually said that yesterday. Seems like he’s going for the class clown type of reputation. I really don’t care for his Shtick.

  • gordie bell

    Good recap, thank you. Was nice to see Zack get going.
    Hard to believe what a scorer Darius has become, no way did I expect him to develop into one of the top scorers and players in the conference, certainly not as a soph. Darius not the most athletic guy in the world but he knows how to use his body and get the job done. Smart player.

  • CJD

    Just my .02 cents!
    D Mo: Greatly improved but still wish he would move the ball more especially feed the paint even if it gets kicked back out.
    Novack: Finally what I expected; I could stand him taking a few more shots.
    Douglas: Best pure shooter that as I have said before should be considered for starting spot ahead of THJ.
    Morgan: Biggest shocker of the year; giving us far more than ever expected at this stage.
    Smot: Finally putting the ball on the floor now and then; still wish he did even more and feel if he did he would get more open and better 3pt looks.
    Vogrich: Solid shooter and starting to gain confidence. He could get more minutes if his defense was just a little better.
    Horford: I was hoping for a Redshirt; but I may have been wrong as he gives quality minutes every time he hits the floor. Still not crazy about him shooting 3’s.
    THJ: Best athlete by a mile on the team!! But he needs to expand his game because standing in the corner waiting for the 3 ball just does not cut it. On the positive I feel his defense goes un-noticed and that is what probably keeps him in the starting line up.

    Over all the offense will continue to be inconsistent but the defense just has to get better. they do not seem to know what players can hurt them and which ones can not. They too often help defend players that are low risk leaving better players open to get easy hoops.

  • MaizeNBlueJ

    Penn State torrent is up at