By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 14, 2013
CHICAGO — It took the Michigan men’s basketball team a full 30 minutes to settle into a comfortable 15-point lead against the Big Ten’s worst team, and this time, the Wolverines held on.
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Penn State shot an impressive 48 percent from the field on the game, but behind aggressive play from the post players, No. 6 Michigan (13-6 Big Ten, 26-6 overall) knocked the Nittany Lions (2-17, 10-21) from the Big Ten Tournament in an 83-66 win.
The Wolverines failed to fend off a late-game comeback by Penn State the last time these teams squared off, but Michigan — performing exactly as its “Rise to the Occasion” warm-up T-shirts read — kept its composure down the stretch to fend off the Nittany Lions.
“(The last game against Penn State) was obviously in the back of our head when we were up 15 points with 10 minutes left at Penn State, and they’re capable of coming back and winning the game,” said sophomore guard Trey Burke. “We just had to make sure we did what we needed to do to pull out the win.”
Though Michigan was able to pad its lead in the second half this time around, Penn State again kept the game close right out of the gates. The 12th-seeded Nittany Lions were hot in the first half as they shot 50 percent from the field by attacking the interior and feeding the ball to Sasa Borovnjak, who got easy layups against redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan.
Borovnjak led the Nittany Lions on an early 14-0 run after Burke hit a 3-pointer to open the game, so Michigan coach John Beilein called a timeout to settle his team down and find a better matchup for Borovnjak.
Freshman forward Mitch McGary checked in and proceeded to dominate the paint. The freshman had a double-double in the first half alone — 10 points and 10 rebounds — and finished with 10 points and 11 boards.
“That’s Mitch McGary,” Burke said. “He’s able to come of the bench and give us a spark. Once he comes off the bench and gets the crowd into it — he does that a lot — that gives us energy. … He has the ability to bring a spark to this team, not only on the offensive end, but the defensive end. I think he had six or seven rebounds within 10 minutes, and that just shows how much effort and intensity he plays with.”
With McGary seeing extended minutes, the fifth-seeded Wolverines went on a 23-10 run to gain a comfortable first-half lead, but the Nittany Lions’ hot shooting kept the game close.
Penn State clicked offensively in the first half as it has in the past few games, getting easy layups both from passes to the interior to Borovnjak and Ross Travis and from dribble penetration by D.J. Newbill.
Though the Nittany Lion frontcourt combined for 27 points, Beilein noted that most of Penn State’s unique offense runs through its guards, Newbill and Jermaine Marshall.
“Marshall and Newbill can get to anywhere,” Beilen said. “Those two guards, they’re two of the best guards in the league — that’s a big part of (their efficient offense). At the same time, they’re running some really good stuff. … We haven’t seen a lot of that action they’re running now.”
Newbill led the Nittany Lions with 20 points, but Borovnjak and Travis kept the post play close all game. Penn State had 44 points in the paint while Michigan tallied 38, but the Wolverines dominated on the glass.
While virtually ineffective rebounding doomed Michigan against Indiana, its frontcourt pulled down 36 rebounds against Penn State, mostly on the offensive end.
Five of McGary’s 11 rebounds came on offense, and Michigan pulled down 15 total offensive boards — its second-highest total all season — en route to 28 second-chance points. Redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford added 11 points and five rebounds while stepping up to fill Morgan’s minutes, as Morgan got in foul trouble while struggling to guard Borovnjak.
While McGary took control of the first half offensively, the Wolverine backcourt handled the offense in the second half. Burke, junior Tim Hardaway Jr. and freshman Nik Stauskas tallied a combined 29 second-half points, leading the Wolverines offensively with 21, 15 and 15 points, respectively. Michigan also shot 46 percent from the floor, led by Burke’s 7-for-15 from the field.
All three guards played well off the ball screen, easily getting to the basket for layups or mid-range jumpers and drawing fouls.