- Todd Needle/Daily
By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 14, 2013
CHICAGO — The Michigan men’s basketball team’s interior offense picked up right where it left off from last Sunday’s loss to Indiana.
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For the Wolverines, that spelled trouble. Penn State, off to a 14-3 start in Thursday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, outrebounded Michigan, 11-2, early on. Meanwhile, redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan struggled out of the gate and never found his rhythm.
In his first three touches, Morgan had a layup blocked, missed another from point-blank range and then, on a fast break, was stripped.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, it had a contingency plan in the form of freshman forward Mitch McGary. McGary, who registered just two points and two rebounds in eight foul-plagued minutes against Indiana, almost single-handedly saved Michigan in the first half.
The Wolverines outscored the Nittany Lions 32-19 after Penn State’s initial run, taking a 35-33 into halftime, with McGary leading the charge. The freshman entered the game with only one career double-double but already had 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 13 minutes by halftime.
McGary said it was his best half in a Michigan uniform.
“I just felt like I was playing the way should,” McGary said.
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who finished with yet another stellar performance, acknowledged that when McGary entered the game, his presence wasn’t just felt inside the paint, but by his whole team — both emotionally and schematically.
“That’s Mitch McGary; that’s just how he is,” Burke said. “He came off the bench and gave us a spark and once he comes off the bench, it gets the crowds into it … and that gives us energy.
“When … our bigs get in there, get some second-chance points, get fouled, get to the line, I think that opens it up for our perimeter players”
And when McGary’s presence quieted in the second half — he added only one rebound and was held off the scoreboard after the break — redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford stepped up.
Horford was scoreless in the first half, but came through with 11 points in the second stanza. Even though Morgan finished with just four points and two rebounds, Michigan still outrebounded Penn State, 36-32, pulled down 21 offensive boards and scored 28 second-chance points.
“That’s what our bigs (have) got to do,” McGary said. “When we show up, it’s tough to beat us.”
The Wolverines, and especially their frontcount, have been criticized at times throughout the season for being physically soft and failing to show up in key games. Earlier this week, against the Hoosiers, Michigan was outrebounded 47-26 — an embarrassing margin.
McGary was quick to admit that the criticism doesn’t fall on deaf ears, and that’s something he’s okay with.
“I like when people say it,” McGary said. “I turn the degrading comments into motivation. … People were saying we were soft, so we went and grabbed some rebounds, got a whole bunch of put backs and we won the game.”
Michigan coach John Beilein is generally tight-lipped, especially when it comes to roster changes, but the coach couldn’t deny that he’ll at least entertain the possibility of moving McGary into the starting lineup in place of Morgan.
McGary played poorly in his only start this season — a four-point, four-turnover effort at Michigan State on Feb. 12 while Morgan was injured — but the combination of Morgan’s struggles and Michigan’s propensity for slow starts might be an indication there will be a different starting five when the Wolverines take the floor Friday against Wisconsin.
“We talk about the roster and rotation everyday and we’ll probably do that again, but a change — I’m not going to say we’re going to do it or we’re not going to do it,” Beilein said. “Sometimes, if you do make a change, Jordan will play more relaxed coming off the bench, and he’ll make some of those shots he missed.
“Right now, it’s too soon to make that (call).”