Game 15: Penn State at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Down 7-0 with its best player sidelined due to injury, Michigan rediscovered the depth that it spent all offseason raving about.

The Wolverines bounced back from the early deficit in a big way, outscoring the Nittany Lions 49-21 over the final 17 minutes of the first half en route to a 79-56 win. Michigan’s offense caught fire in the first half as six different Wolverines hit a three and seven scored in the opening frame.

Zak Irvin found his three-point stroke and his swagger, finishing with 16 points and seven assists, while his teammates chipped in on their own. Mark Donnal continued his resurgence and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman reached double figures after replacing LeVert in the starting lineup. Even walk-on point guard Andrew Dakich gave the Wolverines a huge lift off the bench with his energy.

psu factors

Michigan’s offense was nearly flawless on the day. The Wolverines scored 1.5 points per possession in the first half, even after failing to score on their first five possessions. In a year that’s been filled with strong shooting performances, Michigan set a high-water mark with a 73% effective field goal percentage. This was the fifth time that Michigan has topped a 70% effective field goal percentage this season — something it did only four times in the last three years combined. This team might not be as good as some previous teams, but there’s no question that this is one of John Beilein’s best shooting teams.

On both ends of the floor, the game came down to shot selection. Michigan attempted layups and threes while managing to hold Penn State to a healthy dosage of mid-range jumpers.

shoot splits

It’s easy to get lost in the gaudy offensive numbers, but this was a very good defensive showing by the Wolverines. Michigan’s defense held Penn State to its third-worst offensive performance of the season. Michigan contested shots at the rim, stayed out of over-aggressive help situations and played great defense on PSU guard Shep Garner. Brandon Taylor got is 18 points, but he needed 16 shot attempts and two turnovers to get there.

The overarching story of the afternoon was still Caris LeVert’s health. LeVert suffered an injury late in the Illinois game to the same lower left leg where he’s had two foot surgeries. John Beilein didn’t provide much of an update after the game, but insisted that LeVert was day-to-day and they are focusing on rehab and evaluation. Michigan is in action next against the Purdue Boilermakers, one of the in a matchup that will put one of the nation’s best shooting teams against one of the best effective field goal percentage defenses.

Player Bullets

  • Zak Irvin: Zak Irvin the creator returned in LeVert’s absence and Michigan needed his ability to make plays off the bounce. This was easily the best game that Irvin has played this season and his confidence bulged as he hit a couple early triples and finished 4-of-6 from long-range. I did think he took a few too many early shots, especially long twos, but that was the sort of confident Zak Irvin that Michigan needs — especially if LeVert is going to miss any extended time.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson was just 3-of-8 from three on the night, but he hit three in a row early on and then started distributing the ball. He did a tremendous job of using his shot fake to create shooting and passing lanes for himself. His vision and even ability to take a few extra dribbles to create offense has improved leaps and bounds from even a couple of weeks ago.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal got the start, but immediately went to the bench with an early foul. His opportunity wasn’t blown though as he finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He’s not doing anything fancy other than cutting hard, running the floor with a purpose and making layups when he catches the ball around the rim. He’s also rebounding as he grabbed 8 rebounds (2 offensive) in 23 minutes on the game.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played a great game off the bench, scoring on a pair of strong drives from the top of the key and knocking in two corner threes. He also played one of his better defensive games of his career at Michigan, with a handful of great one-on-one defensive sequences. There’s not much more you can ask for from your sixth man than 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton clearly felt the burden of LeVert’s absence from the opening tip-off and he struggled through 32 minutes. He turned the ball over six times in the loss and Michigan was outscored by 12 points while he was on the floor. Beilein praised his two big three-point makes and his defense after the game, but everything was a struggle for Walton on Saturday afternoon starting when his first three shot attempts were blocked.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Stepping into the starting lineup against the in-state school that didn’t recruit him, Abdur-Rahkman stepped up to the challenge. He was Michigan’s breakdown guy today, attacking the basket when the offense bogged down and making something happen off the dribble. He also hit a critical triple to open the game when Michigan looked rattled out of the gate. He’s now made 7 of his last 13 three-point attempts and the threat of him at least shooting from long distance opens the offense for him to drive, or creates space for others.
  • Andrew Dakich: Dakich came into the game with Michigan trailing 6-9, when he left the game the Wolverines led 33-17. He might not have filled the stat sheet, but his energy on both ends of the floor gave Michigan a huge lift.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle lost his starting spot and played only seven minutes in the win, grabbing one rebound.
  • Moritz Wagner: This was one of Moe Wagner’s better showings in the last few weeks. He scored a pair of baskets, including a nice pick-and-roll finish from Andrew Dakich, and grabbed a tough rebound defensively.
  • David Remmler

    Looks like we’re playing in sync offensively and also improving defensively. Nice to see Donnal’s recent transformation. Hope it lasts. He just needs to stay aggressive and not let a rough game discourage him. Same for Irvin. I also like to see Dawkins, MAAR, Wagner and even Dakich contribute well off the bench.

    I hope those seeing fewer minutes (Doyle, Wilson and Chatman) don’t get discouraged either. We will probably need them more in the future.

    Now we have a couple really tough opponents in Purdue and Maryland. We will need to say in sync offensively, passing the ball and playing unselfishly. And we’ll need all our bigs (Donnal, Doyle, Wagner, Wilson and maybe Chatman) to play tough and aggressively inside.

  • JJ3ball

    Good stuff as always. Thank you.
    I would only quibble with a portion of you assessment of Robinson:

    “He did a tremendous job of using his shot fake to create shooting and passing lanes for himself. His vision and even ability to take a few extra dribbles to create offense has improved leaps and bounds from even a couple of weeks ago.

    I don’t think his ability as a playmaker or his shot fake has improved over the last couple of weeks. He was able to do these things as a freshman at Williams. I think his willingness to do them, whether it be because he’s more comfortable, and/or the coaches are asking him to facilitate, has initiated his uptick in his playmaking of late. This has been a part of his game for a while, remember Coach Beilein raving about his passing ability in the summer?
    I was under the assumption Robinson would defer to LeVert, Irvin, and Walton this year, but if LeVert is going to be out a while, Robinson can take on a heavier playmaking role. I would suspect his assist to turnover ratio would be fantastic.

    • MrLG

      JJ3ball- I was going to make exactly the same point, thanks for doing it for me!

      Dylan – I really appreciated that there was video of the opposing coach’s comments. This is always interesting, but frequently omitted on this site. I was amazed that there were not any questions for the guy. Apparently there are very few reporters that follow the PSU team, a football school all the way.

      • We usually try to do opposing coach pressers for Big Ten games and other big ones. But coaches for guarantee games don’t generally come to the pressers.

        PSU had a bowl game today, not sure if they had a beat writer there honestly.

    • I agree that he’s had those skills, but for him the improvement is implementing them in games. Beilein even talked today about how he was a bit worried about his assist numbers early on this year.

      • JJ3ball

        Gotcha. Haven’t watched Coach Beilein’s pressers yet.

  • ChathaM

    I liked the PSU game plan of going inside and trying to take advantage of the size matchups. They got a lot of very good looks inside in the first half, but missed quite a few of them. Unfortunately for them, this happened during our incredible barrage of 3’s. That seemed to suck the life out of them (kinda like how Florida looked like the life was sucked out of them partway through yesterday’s Citrus Bowl), and the second half was basically a walk to the finish. I suppose you can’t fault a college team for largely scrapping the game plan when they’re down 20 at half. They had to have been absolutely stunned, and it reminded me of games at Iowa and Indiana in the past few years, when those teams simply made everything, and there was nothing we could do about it. It’s nice to be on the happy end of that this time around.

    Robinson continues to impress, showing perfect footwork when shooting off the dribble. That’s NBA footwork from a redshirt sophomore. I love it.

    I thought that Irvin’s post defence was excellent. He seems to understand the concept of “walling up” very well, and embraces the opportunity to guard taller players. With his shot dropping, he was our best player today, IMO. It’s amazing how quickly some players can seem to put things together after a year, or even more, of frustrating play. It speaks to coaching, maturity, and experience, and you really can’t predict when it will happen.

    Was Crisler close to full today? I had checked tickets online in the days leading up to the game, and availability seemed low, with prices high, and that surprised me given the time of year and the opponent.

  • JJ3ball

    Donnal is now hitting 63% of his FG’s this year.
    18/25 in Big Ten play for a cool 72%.

    Here are Jordan Morgan’s numbers over 4 years.
    Freshman 63% overall. 66% in conference
    Sophomore. 62% and 59%
    Junior. 58% and 60%
    Senior. 70% and 73%

    This gives me renewed confidence in what Austin Davis might do in this offense. Big strong kid with great hands and a nice touch.

    • rlcBlue

      Donnal’s rebounding percentages are also comparable to Morgan’s at the same stage of his career – and Mark turns the ball over at half the rate that Jordan did.

      Defensively, though… as a sophomore, Morgan was locking up Jared Sullinger; we’ll see how Donnal manages the Stones and Hammondses and Davises and all…

  • bobohle

    Purdue is going to be in an ugly mood after blowing a huge lead and losing to Iowa today on Rick Mount day.

  • Chris De Sana

    Donnal is starting to look like he could be a JMO like player but maybe even better as he has a far better stroke from distance and the line.

  • I was glad Beilein praised the job Walton did on Garner. Walton was obviously frustrated with his turnovers, but didn’t let it affect his defense. Dackich came in and did an amazing job defensively, but when Walton came back he put his own offensive problems away and gave a capable BIG point guard just a miserable afternoon.

  • MAZS

    Beilein is now back to essentially an 8 man rotation. Starters, plus RAAK and Dawkins–usually all 3 centers make an appearance in the first half and the two playing best play in the second half.

    One remaining quibble with Beilein’s not getting his quality bench players into the game earlier in a blowout–obviously meaning Wilson and Chatman here entering at about the 2:30 minute mark. I felt the same way about Max 2 years ago when he usually entered with Lonergan and Dakich. I can’t imagine it bodes well for either staying.

    • GTFOmycourt

      Wilson and Chatman are showing some really bad body language on the bench. (Especially Wilson.) I hope we do not lose them. He is a very talented player, in my opinion. Based on what I have seen I think they both deserve some playing time especially when we are up plus 20 points in the second half! Distributing playing time better protects our star players also.

      • MAZS

        I didn’t notice that with Wilson. It would be particularly telling as his bench energy and enthusiasm was great last year.

  • gobluemd16

    Any possibility that Beilein and the coaches know the Caris injury is a sprained ankle (as it appears), but aren’t releasing details because they don’t want to tip their hand as to whether he will play against Purdue, etc. this coming week? I know his comments seemed cryptic as if they were not sure of the injury, but it seems hard to believe that it wasn’t a bruise or sprain.

    Otherwise, wish Purdue had beaten Iowa yesterday. Definitely will be motivated to be us badly on Thursday.