BLOOMINGTON — January 7, 2009.
That was the last time the Michigan men’s basketball team won a game inside Assembly Hall.
And that win came during the first year of Indiana’s NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations. The Hoosiers ended up 6-25 that season, going 1-17 in the Big Ten.
On Sunday afternoon, the Wolverines once again visited Assembly Hall, where the implications loomed much larger.
With just seven games remaining in the Big Ten season to add to their résumé and the team squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Wolverines had their backs up against the wall in Bloomington.
As odd as it sounds, Michigan was playing a must-win game at Assembly Hall, a place it had won only once in their last 18 contests. To make matters worse, the Wolverines were winless in six games on the road this season.
But they proved up to the task, beating the Hoosiers, another bubble team, 75-63.
“This was a really good win for our guys today,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I can’t (talk) enough about how they came in here and played with such enthusiasm and so much conviction to win this game.
“(Assembly Hall) is a hard place for every team that has ever played in the Big Ten to win in, and it’s so good for our team to come out here, get a lead and keep a lead.”
While the Wolverines (6-6 Big Ten, 16-9 overall) jumped out to a 35-25 lead to end the first half, Michigan’s offense struggled in the frame’s final few minutes as it was held scoreless over the last 3:25.
Indiana (5-8, 15-11), though, couldn’t take advantage of the Wolverines’ scoring drought.
Michigan scored 13 points off 10 forced turnovers in the first half, as it took a 10-point lead into the break.
Paving the way for the Wolverines was senior guard Derrick Walton Jr., who led Michigan with 10 points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting. Walton finished with a game-high 25 points.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner handled his matchup with Indiana center Thomas Bryant well, grabbing four rebounds in the first half and holding Bryant to just four points. While Wagner missed a couple of layups, he contributed heavily on the defensive end of the floor.
After coming into the game averaging 20.2 points on 68.4 percent shooting in his past five games, Bryant finished with just eight points total against the combination of Wagner and redshirt sophomore DJ Wilson’s help defense down low.
“Moe and (redshirt junior forward Mark Donnal) have been doing a good job fronting the post, not allowing them to get as many touches in the post,” Wilson said. “Then we executed our game plan on defense as far as setting the other one up to trap the post guy, and it worked out.”
The second half began slowly for both teams, with neither side scoring until Hoosier guard Josh Newkirk hit a running layup with almost three minutes gone in the half.
It took about two more minutes for Michigan to get going, as it didn’t score its first points of the half until the 15:43 mark, when Wagner nailed a 3-pointer. The trey ended an almost nine-minute scoring drought by the Wolverines dating back to the first half.
From there, Michigan’s offense returned to its earlier efficiency as it shot 8-of-9 in the following minutes to extend its lead to double digits.
That lead became insurmountable for the Hoosiers, and the Wolverines closed the door on an Indiana comeback to grab their first win at Assembly Hall since 2009.
“It’s not really whether we play or who we play, we just needed a win,” Wagner said. “We knew that. (The win) was very important with our backs against the wall.”
Once again, Michigan’s defense led the way. With Bryant held in check, junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman also held Indiana’s leading scorer in guard James Blackmon Jr. to just three points on 1-for-6 shooting.
While the Wolverines’ road win in a tough venue will put them on the right side of the bubble, they still have a long way to go.
But for now, Michigan will celebrate a victory at a place where it hasn’t been able to in seven years.