Anybody who thought the Michigan Wolverines would come out cautious and tight on a day where they had a chance at claiming a share of the Big 10 championship was quickly reassured. The Wolverines barnstormed the Penn State Nittany Lions (12-19, 4-14) in the 1st half by hitting 13 of their first 16 shots from the field. A late run by Penn State made things very interesting but Michigan persevered on their way to an eventual 71-65 win.
Michigan (23-8, 13-5) hasn’t won the Big 10’s regular season since 1986. Behind a total team effort and early lights-out shooting from Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway, Jr., the Wolverines gave themselves a shot at the title pending the Ohio State-Michigan State game later this afternoon. Michigan closed the season with 4 straight road wins.
Michigan took a 39-28 lead into halftime behind 12 from Smotrycz and 10 from TH2. For the half, they shot 14-20 from the field and 7-10 from long range, 70% each. To put it simply, when Michigan shoots like they did today they can and will beat anybody. Granted, Penn State isn’t exactly known as a team full of stoppers, but the overall efficiency was a thing of beauty.
Michigan led by as many as 19 with 11:02 left in the 2nd half. Penn State went on a stunning 13-0 run to make things very uncomfortable for Michigan as their lead was trimmed all the way down to 6 by the time the spurt finally ended. The run was particularly unexpected due to long stretches of offensive ineffectiveness by Penn State earlier in the game. Credit PSU coach Patrick Chambers for keeping his team in the game mentally.
Zack Novak had the answer with a pump-fake jumper from 19 feet to break the run. After 2 free throws by Penn State, you know who came to the rescue at the end of the shot clock. Trey Burke completed a difficult 4-point play to put Michigan back up 10. Shockingly, Trey Lewis answered with a 4-point play of his own on the very next possession as Novak picked up his 5th foul of the game trying to close out on the corner jumper.
Penn State didn’t quit even after Michigan’s answers. A Jermaine Marshall runner brought his team within 4 at 62-58. After an errant 3 by Stu Douglass, Tim Frazier narrowly missed a floater that would have cut the lead to 2. Trey Burke answered yet again with a hard-driving layup to put Michigan back up 6.
Ross Travis knocked in 2 free throws to bring it back to 4 but Hardaway had the answer with a pull-up jumper with 40 seconds left to finally seal the deal as Penn State missed on their end and were forced to foul the rest of the way.
Trey Burke paved the way with 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting. Smotrycz was the key though as he scored 17 points and yanked down 4 boards. He was 6-7 from the floor and 3-4 from 3-pt. range. As a team, Michigan was 25-42 from the field (59.5%). Hardaway finished with 13 and Novak had 11 despite fouling out. Stu Douglass ran a great floor game with 9 points and 6 assists to just 1 turnover.
All eyes for Michigan will now turn to their two most hated rivals as the Buckeye-Spartan game will determine their Big 10 championship fate.
As Zack Novak and Stu Douglass did their work in the last regular season games of their careers, it was great to be reminded of their growth on the offensive end. Douglass was finishing in traffic near the rim and hitting his ever-increasing step back jumper. Novak put his pull-up on full display including leading it off in the 1st half with a power jump stop into a Penn State defender. Neither player was confident enough to do these things early in their careers. As true leaders they continue to grow even at the very end of their time with John Beilein.
Jermaine Marshall had a huge game for Penn State, scoring 27 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Tim Frazier struggled for the most part on his way to a 4-16 shooting performance and 11 points. Freshman forward Ross Travis looked like a difference-maker with 15 points and 6 boards.
On deck for Michigan is a well-deserved 1st round bye in the Big 10 tournament on Thursday. Michigan’s seeding will depend on what happens in the MSU-OSU game later this afternoon but their first game will be sometime this coming Friday in Indianapolis.