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Michigan holds on to beat Penn State, 79-71

Todd Needle/Daily
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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 17, 2013

Sunday was the final day of the Crisler Center rededication weekend, and the pinnacle was supposed to be the Michigan men’s basketball team easily handling the only winless team in the Big Ten.

Instead, Michigan continued to play like it had the past few games — flat-footed and without much energy. The fourth-ranked Wolverines got off to a slow start yet again, and save for sophomore guard Trey Burke’s outstanding day and several cheer-inducing alley-oops by freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, they didn’t play like they had much to celebrate. But Michigan pulled out the win, 79-71, over Penn State.

“It was déjà vu of the Nebraska game,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Nebraska came in here and we had some adversity in the game and we had to battle through it. We had to do some things that, frankly, we needed at this time. Last week was such a difficult week for us (so) to try to bounce back, we needed to win any way possible.”

Added Burke: “I told the guys this is a gritty, not pretty type of win. It wasn’t the best type of win, but it was a win we needed to come out with. We’ll get better from it, it gives us a level of confidence we’ve been missing.”

The Wolverines were down by as many as eight points in the first half, and the first field goal made by someone other than Burke came with eight minutes left to play in the half. Burke had five of Michigan’s nine total field goals in the first stanza and the sophomore finished with a season-high 29 points and five assists on 9-of-16 shooting.

Though Burke hit his shots and dictated Michigan’s offense in the first half, he still had trouble finding open looks. Penn State’s defense forced Burke to take off-balance fade-away jump shots that Penn State coach Pat Chambers called “circus shots” — shots that reflected the Wolverines’ inability to get into offensive rhythm, as they shot a dismal 36 percent in the first half.

After a poor first-half performance, Michigan (9-4 Big Ten, 22-4 overall) came out of the locker room with a 6-0 run to take a 38-32 lead. The Nittany Lions (0-13, 8-17) clawed back to tie the game at 38, but that would be the last time the Nittany Lions knotted the score.

The Wolverines continued to make their run, pushing their lead to as much as nine points late in the second half, due to the resurgence of two of their keys to the offense — Robinson and freshman guard Nik Stauskas.

Robinson scored a career-high 21 points, 10 of which came from dunks or alley-oops. Though the freshman hasn’t displayed much confidence in the Wolverines’ games against tougher opponents — Robinson totaled just 18 points in the past four games — he seemed to regain his swagger.

He was able to get more involved in the offense in transition to get open for three separate alley-oops. Another time, he was found cutting hard across the baseline for an easy dunk. Robinson even grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double.

“(Robinson) did a great job second-cutting, not just standing,” Chambers said. “He had five dunks, I’m sure. He did a real good job of not standing and getting himself to the basket. He ran the floor really well (and) I felt like he cut pretty well. He got a lot of easy shots, and a lot of them were dunks unfortunately for us.”

Stauskas also found his shooting touch again. Prior to Sunday, the freshman guard only shot 7-for-19 from 3-point range and hadn’t shown much poise in getting to the rim. But against the Nittany Lions, Stauskas tallied 18 points and hit a couple of key 3-pointers to help maintain Michigan’s lead down the stretch.

The trio of Burke, Robinson and Stauskas shot a combined 20-for-31 from the floor and accounted for 68 of Michigan’s 79 points. They were also more aggressive driving to the basket and drawing fouls. The Wolverines shot a total of 35 free throws and were 27 of 35 from the charity stripe.

“It’s nice (to have Glenn and Nik back contributing),” Burke said. “It gives them that level of confidence that they may have been missing in the (past few) games (when) they weren’t shooting the way that they know they can shoot. It’s their job to hit it when they’re open, (and) I think the earlier we get them involved, the earlier they hit shots, get to the free throw line, be a part of the offense, the better they’re going to play.”

NOTE: During a first-half timeout of Sunday’s game, the 1989 NCAA Champions team was honored as a part of the “Return to Crisler” weekend. In addition, Glen Rice was recognized for his selection as one of the 75 best players in NCAA Tournament history.