Game 22: Michigan vs. Penn State Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan handled business to knock off the Penn State on Saturday afternoon, winning a rare Big Ten game at Madison Square Garden.

The Wolverines led from wire-to-wire, extending their lead to as much as 17 points in the second half, but the Nittany Lions brought the game to two possessions in the final five minutes — finally bringing the Garden to life with some hot shooting down the stretch. Michigan had to sweat out the win, but in the end the Wolverines moved to 7-2 in the Big Ten season and remain firmly in the thick of the conference race.

Zak Irvin led the Wolverines with 20 points in the victory, but Derrick Walton came close to recording his second triple-double of the season, finishing the night with 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. For the Nittany Lions, Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor combined for 46 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in a losing effort.

psu four factors nyc

Michigan’s offense hummed along to the tune of 1.19 points per possession despite making only one three-point shot in the second half. This game hinged on the Wolverines ability to get to the basket and score at the free throw line. Michigan attempted 31 free throws, knocking in 23 of them, and made 19-of-35 two-point attempts. For a team that attempts 46 percent of its field goals from three-point range, the Wolverines had a rare game where they attempted nearly two-thirds of their field goals inside the arc and attempted over 50% as many free throws as threes.

One notable adjustment to the offensive game plan, the Wolverines looked to push more often than normal. Derrick Walton had a couple terrific transition feeds and Michigan even pushed off of made baskets at times, stealing some cheap layups. Perhaps the tweak was due to something the Wolverines saw on film against Penn State, but it could also be a new adjustment to get into offensive sets earlier with the 30 second shot clock.

Defensively, Michigan was great in the first half as it held the Nittany Lions to .88 points per possession, but struggled at times in the second. Michigan’s zone defense looks were the most important factor in the game. In the first half and early in the second, the Wolverines relied heavily on the 2-3 zone and were able to force the Nittany Lions, a team without many three-point threats, into a long range heavy approach.

Pat Chambers adjusted to the 2-3 zone in the second half, but John Beilein went to the 1-3-1 zone midway through the period and threw the Nittany Lions on their heels. Although Chambers stressed that Penn State had seen the 1-3-1 and practice against it this week, they were flummoxed and went four straight possessions without scoring a basket which allowed Michigan to open a 17-point lead.

The zone effectiveness masked the fact that the Nittany Lions scored the ball very well in the other second half possessions. Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner both went over 20 points on efficient shooting and they nearly shot Penn State right back into the game late.

If you’re Michigan, it’s hard not to feel good about yourself after winning 6 of 8 conference games without Caris LeVert. The schedule hasn’t been very difficult, but 7-2 is 7-2 especially with such a critical injury. Essentially the entire rotation has grown up over the last month, but there are still legitimate questions to be answered. The wins are great, but this team hasn’t really blown anyone out either. The last four wins over Minnesota, Nebraska, Rutgers and Penn State were all fairly close and in question late in the second half. That’s good for a team that wants to improve its ability to win close games, but it also lends some doubt to whether the Wolverines are ready to be accepted as one of the conference’s top teams.

With a recent win under Maryland in the bag, Michigan gets two more chances to build on its resume this week as it hosts Indiana and Michigan State. As for Caris LeVert, John Beilein reported that there’s a chance the 6-foot-7 senior returns to action this week.

Player Bullets:

  • Derrick Walton: Walton is growing up quickly as a leader of this team. Beilein has no hesitation about running clock and setting up Walton for late game pick-and-roll isolations and he’s getting the job done when it counts. He also had another double-digit rebounding performance, finishing with 13 points, 10 boards and 7 assists (over half of Michigan’s dimes on the night) in another thorough performance. There was a very real stretch where Walton really struggled early on in Big Ten play after Caris LeVert’s injury, but he’s been named the KenPom ‘MVP’ of the Wolverines’ last four wins and has improved by leaps and bounds.
  • Zak Irvin: This performance was all about Zak Irvin the pick-and-roll slasher. Penn State switched so many screens on the perimeter that Irvin was able to find comfortable matchups to drive on and he continually produced at the rim, making 5-of-8 two-point attempts and getting to the free throw line 7 times. He knocked down half of his threes for good measure and played another very good offensive game, leading the Wolverines with 20 points.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanThis was a vintage Abdur-Rahkman performance that even included him gathering his own miss twice and scoring on the putback. He just knows how to score around the basket and there’s obviously a little extra motivation against the Nittany Lions — two of his three double-digit Big Ten performances came against the in-state school that didn’t offer him. The vision and passing still lags behind at times and I thought he missed a few drop-offs and kick-outs that were available, but his head-down ability is still a rare commodity on this team.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson was just 1-of-5 from three-point range, only his third game this season without multiple three-point makes. Foul trouble threw his first half performance off track, but after failing to make much of an impact for the middle 30 minutes of the game, he came up with a critical driving layup after Penn State had seized the momentum of the game.
  • Mark Donnal10 points and six rebounds in another solid showing from Michigan’s now reliable big man. Donnal was active on the glass on both ends and got to the free throw line 8 times while making 2-of-4 field goals. He’s not always doing anything spectacular down low, but he’s the most reliable option that Beilein has had since Jordan Morgan.
  • Aubrey DawkinsDawkins stepped up in the first half with a pair of three-point makes while Duncan Robinson was sidelined with two early fouls. Dawkins is now shooting 55% from three-point range in Big Ten play and has really emerged as a quality option as sixth man despite missing two potential highlight dunks on the night.
  • Ricky DoyleDoyle received the backup big man minutes ahead of Moritz Wagner, who did not play, and made a few nice plays before a few of his old habits set in with a few bobbles and blocked shots around the rim.
  • DJ Wilson: Wilson has one of the highest usage rates on the team, shooting the ball on 30 percent of the Michigan possessions while he’s on the floor, but his efficiency has been lacking. He was 0-2 from the field with a turnover in just 4 minutes today. Michigan needs an extra option off the bench, but both Kam Chatman in previous games and Wilson tonight have failed to impress in their opportunities.
  • Champswest

    Prior to the season, not many thought we would be at 7-2 at the midway point and tied for third, even with LeVert. A 4-5 finish would put us at 11-7 and probably a top 6 finish and in the tournament. Having said that, none of the final games look very easy, including at winless Minnesota who lost by only 6 today in Bloomington. I hope Caris comes back srong.

    • Indiana_Matt

      Here is my prediction. We go 5-4 over the rest of the conference games for 12-6.

      WINS – IU (19), MSU (12), MIN, NW, IWA (3)
      LOSSES – PUR (21), OSU, MRY (8), WIS

      • ChathaM

        That’s exactly the record I predicted when I went through the rest of the schedule this morning. The team wouldn’t be happy with it, but I’d be a satisfied fan.

  • jakelam2116

    Hey Dylan, silly question in looking at Michigan’s ORB%. Does it include live ball FT misses? Just trying to figure out why it’s 32%, not 36%.

    • Offensive rebounds / (offensive rebounds + opponent defensive rebounds)

      • jakelam2116


  • Adam Redstone

    Great win and atmosphere at the Garden today – nice to see both schools represented in a B1G game in a non-midwest city.

    The game seemed mostly about taking care of business on layups and FTs since Penn State was taking away the 3pt shot and we did that. We had a few fast breaks or put backs that we bobbled or bricked (including dunks) that could have extended our lead and put it out of contention. It seemed like the refs had slow whistles for most of the game and allowed PSU some initial contact and then would whistle us for the next contact (on loose balls and fights for rebounds). Beilein can’t be happy about some charges that we tried to take that they either called as blocks or worse, were no calls.

    With Caris coming back, he should be able to pick up some of the load on getting penetration to the rim which should free up guys like Robinson from 3pt much easier. We will need to integrate Caris into the offense flow and rebuild chemistry around him, but once that gels, we should be sitting pretty come tournament time. Go Blue!

  • Duncan Robinson is way skinny ….. just sayin’.

    • Wayman Britt

      Didn’t he put on 15 to 20 pounds at Camp Sanderson last year?

      • I think he did, which explains how he was always so open at Williams. He’d just turn sideways and his guy would lose him in the crowd.

    • NorthernBlue

      Thin frame, but i was impressed by his take to the rim today. He will look great as an upperclassmen, already looks pretty good, but shows flashes in driving, defending and dishing and will continue to get stronger and even better shooter.

    • ChathaM

      Yep, that has to be a big reason he wasn’t recruited by many (any?) D1 schools coming out of high school. I picture him as a 6’3″ or so beanpole as a high schooler, with tons of game, but not nearly enough body to attract D1 programs.

  • Wayman Britt

    Well this week coming up separates the men from the boys. UM needs at least one win. Lose at home both to MSU and IU, then let the sweating begin to see if they get into the tourney.

    UM sure could use Duncan getting back to his three point shooting form back at Crisler.

    • Slim33

      Big week ahead indeed. I’m calling it now, Michigan is going to roll Indy, let’s play some ballllllllll!!!

  • bobohle

    I hope we don’t see Dakich,Chatman or Wilson on the floor against IU unless it’s a blow out. Can’t afford to let a big lead evaporate in a matter of a couple minutes against the Hoosiers.

  • NorthernBlue

    Love how Walton is chipping in across all categories right now. His rebounding for a point guard is remarkable and whenever he gets a defensive rebound he needs to push which seemed like more of a point of emphasis today.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    great win…im proud to see Walton/Irvin leading the team as they are suppose to…Robinson, Rahkman, Donnal, Dawkins have been great role players…i hope Levert gets healthy enough for the next couple games…even without him we are playing really good basketball…we should be a great team next year

    • Fab 5 Legends

      these next 2 games will be interesting…looking forward to them…even without Levert – i think our team is clicking and can get the W’s

  • Corperryale

    Need to get the IU monkey off our back. For some reason we never play well against them. But really there’s no reason to lose to this IU team in AA, especially without Blackmon. Gotta protect the home floor, especially if we’re going to be underdogs on the road against off-year OSU and Wisconsin squads.

  • Mattski

    Curious how people think we match up against IU and MSU; started a topic about it in the forum.

    • bobohle

      I think we match up pretty well with Walton on Ferrell,MAAR on Williams(Levert if he plays),Donnal on Bryant and Doyle when Beilfield is in the game.

      • Slim33

        Irvin will definitely check Williams. The biggest matchup will be Walton/Ferrell hands down, if we contain Yogi we win.

  • AA7596

    It’s an uphill fight. These guys always play well against us, going back to when they cooked up the idea to put Ferrell on Stauskas. Even that year that U-M ran away with the league and IU was mediocre, the game at Crisler was a coin flip. Say what you want about Crean, but the guy has a good read on Michigan.