The Michigan men’s basketball team certainly got its revenge. After losing to Michigan State, 70-62, in East Lansing on Jan. 29, the Wolverines welcomed the Spartans to Crisler Center and sent them home with a 29-point loss.
Derrick Walton Jr. led the way for Michigan, finishing with a game-high 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting while also contributing eight assists and five rebounds. With his stat line, the senior guard became just the third person in program history — behind Jalen Rose and Gary Grant — to record 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in their Wolverine careers.
But Walton and the rest of his team don’t have much time to dwell on the milestone.
With a matchup against Indiana at Assembly Hall on Sunday, the Wolverines are looking to notch their first road win of the season against the Hoosiers. The matchups away from Crisler have not been kind to Michigan, as it has lost by an average margin of 10 points on the road — including three blowouts at South Carolina, UCLA and Illinois.
Indiana, though, seems to be the perfect candidate for the Wolverines to get over that hump. In the first matchup between the two, Michigan cruised to a 30-point victory, and the Hoosiers have lost four of their last five games.
Still, they have played No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 16 Purdue competitively, losing to each by just five points.
And Assembly Hall also can’t be forgotten, as it has always been a notoriously difficult venue to play in — something that is reflected in the Hoosiers’ 13-3 home record.
Perhaps the biggest advantage Indiana will have, though, is the return of James Blackmon Jr. The junior guard has been sidelined since sustaining a lower-leg injury during the first meeting with Michigan, but he made his return Thursday night against Purdue.
Though he scored just 11 points on 3-for-14 shooting, he did notch a team-high 32 minutes, so all signs point to him being fully healthy as his team prepares for the rematch with the Wolverines. If he can return to his usual form — averaging 17.6 points and 4.9 rebounds — Blackmon could help send Michigan home still winless on the road.
The Daily sat down with Blackmon at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about the ACL injury he sustained during the 2015-16 season, his decision to not enter the NBA Draft and his role on the team following former Hoosier guard Yogi Ferrell’s departure.
The Michigan Daily: You’re coming off an ACL injury that kept you out of the Big Ten season last year. How are you feeling?
James Blackmon Jr.: Yeah definitely. I think I’m ready to play. I feel better than I did before. I feel more athletic and a lot stronger as an all-around player, and I feel like that’s completely from my rehab.
TMD: Are you excited for the Big Ten season this year considering the fact you couldn’t play last year?
JB: Definitely. Missing the season is so hard, so coming into this season, that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to.
TMD: You thought about heading to the NBA like your teammate Thomas Bryant, what do you think of the NCAA allowing players to test the waters of the NBA Draft before they decide whether or not they want to enter?
JB: I think it’s a good rule. It gives players a chance to chase an opportunity and a dream. But at the same time, they can also go back to school. So you’re not losing anything, and you’re taking full advantage of your opportunities.
TMD: Yogi Ferrell has not been liked by Michigan fans over the past couple years. What was it like playing with him?
JB: It was good because every day he got the most out of me, and I did the same for him. We pushed each other every day and that’s what you need. You want a competitive guy to push you.
TMD: Now that he’s gone, the point guard position is open. Is that a position you’re looking to play?
JB: Yeah, I’m definitely comfortable with playing the point guard. But I think anyone can take that role on the team. It’s not just me.
TMD: Being a leader on a team with such high expectations, how do you shoulder those expectations and play under that pressure?
JB: I don’t think it’s really pressure. If you put in the work everyday and prepare, it should just come.