Five Key Plays: Michigan at Nebraska

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1. Novak and Douglass spark 9-2 run to start the game

Coming into this game, Michigan didn’t know much about Nebraska. The Wolverines hadn’t played in Lincoln since 1964 and really had no idea what to expect from the Cornhuskers beyond what they saw on film. The best way to settle those early questions was to get out to an early lead and quiet the 7,000 Nebraska fans in attendance. That’s exactly what Michigan did behind the leadership of its two seniors. Zack Novak started the game with a deep three from the top of the key off a handoff and screen from Jordan Morgan to get things going. Novak stayed hot on his next attempt, hitting another three, this time off a pass from Trey Burke. Not only did the bucket give the Wolverines a 6-0 lead, but it was also Novak’s 1,000th career point. He’s now just the 28th Wolverine in history to rack up 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a Michigan uniform. As John Beilein joked after, Novak probably had the steadiest climb to 1,000 points out of any of the 28. Novak wasn’t exactly as positive on the accomplishment:

“If I did it in a timely fashion, I’d care,” he said. “At this point, playing 35 minutes a game for four years, I don’t think that averages out very well.”

In hindsight, that’s probably one of the best ways to describe Novak: steady. He’s never out-worked by anyone and will more often than not hit the big shot. He did both of those in Lincoln and, along with another three from Stu Douglass, made sure to get this game off to a smooth start. Senior leadership is critical on the road and Novak and Douglass were instrumental in spearheading this Michigan win.

2. Hardaway’s underwhelming first-half performance helps Nebraska stay in it

Although Douglass and Novak played big roles in getting out to an early lead, Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to struggle. The sophomore’s struggles were a big reason Nebraska was able to hang around in the first half despite a tremendous defensive effort from the Wolverines. Hardaway was 0-for-7 from the field to start the game and missed his fair share of good looks and somewhat forced attempts. His first field goal attempt of the game was a contested 3-pointer with plenty of time left on the shot clock – not the type of shot you want to take if you’re trying to break out of a shooting slump. He seemed to learn from his mistake on Michigan’s next possession and posted up the smaller Nebraska defender. He made a solid post move, but the shot rimmed out. That’s the shot you want Hardaway taking but he reverted back to the three point shot for most of the half. Some shots were late in the shot clock, several were off of dishes from penetrating guards, but the results were all the same. Hardaway missed five shots total in the first half and drove to the basket only twice. His body language was as frustrating as his play and he was a primary reason why the Wolverines led by just seven points at the break despite allowing only 15 points.

3. Morgan’s buckets off nice passes from Burke get the offense going

Following a fairly uninspired offensive performance in the first half, Michigan needed to come out of the break with some energy. It was clear that Nebraska was simply not as good as the Wolverines, but it didn’t show on the scoreboard. Right out of the gate in the second half, that changed. Michigan went on a 10-0 run to start the frame, and Burke and Morgan played a big part in the run. We’ve talked plenty about the developing chemistry between Burke and Morgan so far this year, specifically on the pick and roll. People sometimes forget that this still is just their first year playing together and they’re still learning as time goes on. But in these back-to-back plays, it looked like they’ve been playing together for years and it helped Michigan finally get rolling. Just over a minute into the half, Burke and Morgan worked the screen and roll to perfection. Off the pick from Morgan, Burke drove and attracted both his and Morgan’s defender, leaving Morgan wide open under the basket with no help defense in sight. On the next possession, Morgan set a screen up top on Hardaway, who passed it to Burke on the right wing. Off the screen, Morgan cut to the basket and Burke sniped him out for another easy lay-up. Both plays probably were also a product of poor defense from Nebraska, but it’s good to see Burke and Morgan continue to develop together, and it came at a good time in this one.

4. Hardaway gets it going in the 2nd half with defense and smart play

After his poor first half performance, Hardaway came out of the break seemingly as a different player. He finished the game with just six points, but it was the little things that he did that really helped the Wolverines pull away. First, he took a charge. Following the charge, Hardaway had a hand in each of Michigan’s next six buckets. Hardaway needed something to get him going, and just that charge seemed to be the confidence boost that he needed. On the next possession following the charge, Hardaway scored his first points of the game on a nice drive and finish in the lane. From there, he didn’t try to force things and got others involved. In transition, he found Morgan wide open under the basket with a great pass. Then, after curling off a screen and driving in the lane, Hardaway attracted three defenders. Instead of forcing up a shot as he did in a similar situation in the first half, he kicked it out to Burke, who drained a three in the corner. Moments later, he drove down the lane again and this time found Novak open for a bunny under the hoop. The theme of Hardaway driving instead of settling for jumpers continued two possessions later. Hardaway drove down the middle of the lane once again and realized that this time he had an open path to the bucket for himself and finished with a finger roll. To cap off this run, he made a smart back cut and finished a wide open lay-up off a great back door pass from Novak. Hardaway was worlds better in the second half, and it wasn’t because he was shooting the lights out. He made smart basketball plays to help his team, and when you do that, chances are the shot will start falling too.

5. Matt Vogrich’s three 3-pointers bury the Cornhuskers

Hardaway isn’t the only Wolverine that’s been struggling recently. In fact, Matt Vogrich has struggled from behind the arc for almost the whole season. Coming into Wednesday’s game, Vogrich was just 7-for-33 behind the arc this season (.212 %). For Vogrich to truly be effective on this team, he’s got to be able to hit open threes in limited opportunities. On Wednesday, he did, and hopefully this will be the confidence boost that he needed to get going. In a span of less than two minutes, Vogrich made three shots from behind the arc, nearly half of his total amount of 3-pointers on the season. The game was pretty much in hand at this point, but Vogrich’s buckets made sure this one was in the books. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect was the bench’s reaction to every make. The camera seemed to pan to Hardaway jumping and waving his towel after every Vogrich make and the celebration on the bench was picked up on television in the otherwise quiet Devaney Center. Timely three point shooting is one thing that could make this team a force to be reckoned with down the stretch, especially if Vogrich and Hardaway can find their shooting strokes.

  • Mith

    Agree completely about Vogrich.  It’d sure help to have a bench guy be able to come in and knock down a 3 here and there. 

    This team is having a heck of a nice year despite Hardaway, Smotrycz and Vogrich really struggling.  If even two of those guys can get untracked I like our chances at making a tourney run.

  • ScottGoBlue

    Great work, as always.  It was great to see Hardaway play defense with energy in the 2nd half, and to see Vogrich hit those threes.  Vogrich, Smotrycz, and Hardaway are all suffering long shooting slumps.  It would be great to see them bust out of it; maybe Matt is getting them started.

    Hey, let’s celebrate a major step forward.  This was a big win, on the road.  Nebraska isn’t a top-50 team, but neither was Iowa (and we know what happened in Iowa City last month).  We really took it to a conference opponent on their court.  This is big not just in view of the season, but in view of the progress of the program under Beilein.  Road wins are critical, and we got a couple now.

  • davis104

    Love Hardaway’s reactions on the bench during Vogrich’s three point fest. I love this feature by the way. Great job. 

  • rlcBlue

    Another key element of the game was that the team jumped out to a lead, held it, and then extended it decisively; this allowed Burke to play his fewest minutes since the Iowa debacle, and his fewest in a win since Alabama A&M back before Christmas. Hardaway and Novak also got some extra rest.

    With a normal, three day break before the next game (a day longer than Illinois gets) and no mid-week game next week, we can hope that the team will be better rested for the stretch drive than they have been since conference play started.

  • Mpartington87

    It’s great to see Vogrich taking shots that he should have been taking the entire year but was too timid to shoot. We could truly use another deep threat. Hopefully he can keep it up.

    • Merlin50

      Its funny to watch Beilein’s reaction-for most of the baskets he shifts his arms but does not move much. However he gets excited  when Vogrich scores.  He knows how critical this is for this year and next.

      • Chris

        Critical for next year?  I would say critical for this year.  If Vogrich can catch fire then that would be HUGE for a tourney run, to have those points off the bench. 

        • Indiana_Matt

          Critical for which year, again?

  • Kool Breeze

    A small thing, but notice who is cheering the hardest on the bench after Vogrich makes his last three.  Nice to see THJ not hanging his head though he is struggling.  I think the second half was huge for THJ, can this possibly propel him out of his slump?

    • TMURDA

      Matt Daddy, is that you?

  • sane1

    Hopefully, shooting really is contagious and Vogrich infects THJ and Smotrycz.

  • Chris

    I vote “5 key plays” should be changed to 5 key sequences.  When you have several plays wrapped into one key play, then it’s hardly “5 key plays.”  JMO. 

    • Indiana_Matt

      …hardly…

    • There are definitely more than five plays in the Five Key Plays but at this point but we are kind of stuck with the name. Five Key Sequences doesn’t really have the same ring to it…

  • Giddings

    Women’s team building off the men’s team success at Devaney last night.  They’re up 41-14 at #15 Nebraska with 15 minutes left… Nebraska shooting 13% from the field including 1-18 (5.6%) from three point range.

  • Indiana_Matt

    This blog is so fantastic… you can call it Five Key Whatever You Wants for as long as you want. The work is so good. Thanks for doing it.

  • gpsimms

    hardaway was pretty lucky they called a charge there, though.  he has GOT to quit looking afraid of contact.  when you push your hands out at the driver the way he does, it’s not really a charge anymore.  he has done this a lot in the past, too.

    it’s kind of amazing to me that a kid who has been in competitive sports for all his life shies away from contact that way.

  • Joel_C

     VOGRICH TIME!