The third possession of the second half defined those final 20 minutes for the No. 2 Michigan men’s basketball team in its 62-47 win over Nebraska on Wednesday night.
Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III was fouled while shooting after pulling down an offensive rebound, and the St. John’s, Ind. native stepped to the free-throw line. Robinson couldn’t nail both, missing the first shot and making the second.
After a slow start — in which the Wolverines put up their lowest first-half total all season with 25 points — attacking the basket seemed to be the way to pull away from Nebraska, trailed by just five points at the half. Michigan began to penetrate, and the Cornhuskers kept fouling, but the Wolverines had difficulty knocking down free throws.
“If it would’ve been a little bit tighter down the stretch where we had to make foul shots to win it, that’s one thing we’re going to have to do down the road,” Beilein said. “I think that’s the closest it’s been in over a month, and as a result, it’s really important we learn how to close games with good defense and possession rebounds.”
Due to a 65-percent clip from the charity stripe by Michigan, Nebraska was able to hang with the Wolverines, but Michigan held onto its slim lead for a 62-47 win, extending the program’s longest unbeaten streak to start a season since the 1985-86 season to 16 games.
“Believe it or not, coaches, we love these type of wins,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “You don’t necessarily love coaching them, but when you look back at them, these are the ones that build teams.
“We had to grind one out. My T-shirt is soaked right now, and that’s not what you like to do — I guess that’s too much information. That was difficult, but at the same time, it was one we needed to have. That adversity is the good stuff in the long run.”
The Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 16-0 overall) were in the bonus for 14 minutes in the second half, earning 16 shots from the line, where each trip was an opportunity to extend a lead or make a run to pull away from the Cornhuskers (0-3, 9-7).
But with another good night from Robinson — who has put up at least 10 points in each of the past five games — and sophomore point guard Trey Burke, the Wolverines were able to revamp its offense and keep Nebraska out of reach. Robinson scored 14 points with six rebounds and Burke had 18, and the duo was complemented by junior Tim Hardaway Jr.’s double-double, with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“This league is very tough and you’re not going to get offensive rebounds that easy,” said Hardaway. “It makes an emphasis for us and for all five of us to crash (the boards).”
In the first half, the Wolverines had highlights, where Hardaway or Robinson would finish drives to the basket with pretty finger rolls. But besides that, nothing else was pretty for the Wolverines. Michigan shot a mere 32 percent from the floor and just 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Nik Stauskas was 0-for-3 from long range, his specialty, in the first half.
Luckily for the Wolverines, though, Nebraska didn’t shoot well, either. The Cornhuskers shot 32 percent from the floor in the first half and finished with just a 33-percent clip. Though Nebraska looked like it could challenge redshirt junior Jordan Morgan in the paint — the Cornhuskers made easy layups early in the game — its star forward Brandon Ubel finished with just six points.
The sole saving grace in the first half for the Wolverines was their offensive rebounding — they tallied nine offensive boards and scored 11 second-chance points — and Michigan continued to attack the glass in the second half. It easily outrebounded the Cornhuskers, 50-34, and finished with 19 second-chance points. Morgan added 10 rebounds in the Wolverines’ solid efforts on the boards.
“It was huge seeing Glenn and Jordan battling down there, and getting offensive rebounds is very key for us,” Hardaway said. “We got 48 percent of our shots back and that was very big when we aren’t knocking down shots like we normally do.”
Added Nebraska coach Tim Miles: “They’ve got production everywhere you go, and there was a way to win the game tonight for them, and it was the boards. It was being aggressive and getting fouled, and they did both. You have to commend them on that.”