BLOOMINGTON — Franz Wagner stepped up to the foul line. Then, he did it again. And again.
The sophomore wing looked like he could do anything he wanted against his defender — and he knew it. Penetrating the outer membrane of Indiana’s defense, Wagner was either finishing at the rim or creating enough contact to earn his points from 15 feet out. By the second TV timeout, he had gone 5-of-5 from the charity stripe and scored ten points.
“Aggressiveness, I think is the key word,” Wagner said. “Just trying to make the right play, seeing a couple lanes that were open, trying to drive it. (I) got a steal. All those little things, not trying to get a steal but if you do your job, those things are gonna happen.”
Whether with fouls or turnovers, the Hoosiers (12-12 overall, 7-10 Big Ten) were in a charitable mood on Saturday afternoon. Wagner and the No. 3 Michigan men’s basketball team (18-1, 13-1) gladly accepted any and all donations en route to a 73-57 win over Indiana.
“When you give a team 18 foul shots in the first half, that’s a lack of physicality and a lack of discipline,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “And I think their overall size and ability to drive was the more aggressive team. … (It) was a big deal. We are the number one free throw shooting team in the league in terms of getting to the line, and I don’t think we’ve gotten outshot 18-9 from the foul line all year.”
Besides 27 free-throw attempts, the game followed a frenetic pace. There were fastbreak opportunities, full-court presses and multiple rim-rattling finishes. During one sequence, the Hoosiers’ Trayce Jackson-Davis did the impossible, baptizing Michigan’s freshman center Hunter Dickinson with a ferocious, and-one Tomahawk. Dickinson would return the favor seconds later though, forcing in a two-handed slam home over Race Thompson.
A lively first half was punctuated by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Indiana’s Jerome Hunter. Behind an opportunistic offensive performance though, Michigan still held a nine point advantage. Rather than serve as the beneficiaries of the Hoosiers’ good will, the Wolverines took control in the second half themselves. Senior wing Isaiah Livers led the way, hitting a trio of 3-pointers from virtually the same spot on the wing.
Indiana kept the deficit somewhat manageable, until it didn’t. Employing a Eurostep, the German-native blew past an Indiana defender for an easy layup in transition. Livers then sent Michigan’s bench into pandemonium, taking off from the Big Ten logo to flush home a missed 3-pointer that had clanked off the rim. Wagner would finish with 21 points and Livers with 16 points, but Dickinson and graduate point guard Mike Smith did their part too.
“Today, the game was emphasized on energy,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “We didn’t want us to feel like we can just walk in here and think we can get a win. I knew Indiana would be prepared and they would come out with a ton of energy from start to finish. … They had to be ready from the jump ball and they were ready from the jump ball.”
For what felt like the hundredth time this season, the Wolverines were pulling away midway through the second half. All their opponent could do was make the defeat look respectable.
“They just keep coming,” Miller said. “I think as you watch Michigan, you may hang around for a while, but they have the ability to sustain it throughout the course of the game and they play extremely well.”
Michigan might’ve used the Hoosiers’ mistakes to its advantage at the start, but in the end, the Wolverines needed little help winning their seventh in a row and moving one step closer to a Big Ten regular season title — what would be their first since the 2013-2014 season.
“Everybody as a team has to give,” Livers said. “(Coach Howard) talks about not being a vampire, an energy-sucker. We gotta be energy givers. I feel like when everybody is not (selfish), this team plays at a high level, national-championship level, best team in the country type level.”