Play impressively for a stretch, maybe even take a lead, only to watch it wither away after a sequence of missed shots, bad defense and costly turnovers – it has become a familiar storyline for the Michigan men’s basketball team this year.
Against Penn State Saturday, the Wolverines appeared to be following the same script. They allowed the Nittany Lions to take an early second-half lead, despite playing well for the game’s first 30 minutes.
But this time, Michigan rebounded from its mistakes and escaped with a 68-63 victory in front of 9,714 at Crisler Arena.
Penn State opened the second half on a 12-0 run. During that stretch, the Wolverines committed five turnovers and failed to score for more than five minutes. Penn State’s lead surged to six, and Michigan appeared to lay down in defeat once again.
Instead, the Wolverines showed the growth and maturity Michigan coach John Beilein and his staff have been searching for all season.
“You get hit in the head so many times, eventually you have to protect yourself,” redshirt junior C.J. Lee said. “I think that’s what we did tonight. On our home court, we knew it was important to respond from that run in the second half.”
Michigan didn’t respond with a huge surge of its own. The Wolverines had to claw their way back, using scoring outbursts of 6-0, 7-0 and 9-0 to regain the lead.
And it was a collective effort that helped Michigan win its first game since Jan. 12.
Sophomore DeShawn Sims – who didn’t play much in crunch time against Ohio State last Tuesday – led the charge down the stretch. With the score tied at 57, he spun along the baseline, drew attention from help-side defenders and dished the ball to sophomore Ekpe Udoh for an easy layup. On the ensuing possession, Sims put back an Anthony Wright miss to give the Wolverines a four-point lead.
The Detroit native would have made it three consecutive key offensive plays, but Udoh was called for offensive goaltending after a Sims post move.
“I wanted to go out there and do some things to try and take over the game,” said Sims, who finished with 16 points.
Freshman standout Manny Harris also played well when it mattered most. The guard had 10 second-half points, none more important than a three-point play to give Michigan a 64-59 lead with 1:15 remaining. He also tallied 16 points.
In stark contrast to the loss against the Buckeyes, in which the Wolverines had just one basket in the final eight and half minutes, it was Michigan that held Penn State (3-8 Big Ten, 11-12 overall) without a field goal the final for five minutes. Much of the credit belongs to Udoh, who notched six blocks, including swats on consecutive possessions when Penn State baskets would have turned the contest back into a one-possession game.
The bench also provided Michigan (2-9, 6-17) with a much-needed boost. Led by Wright, who helped give the team a six-point halftime lead with 10 points in the first half, the Wolverines’ reserves chipped in 26 points.
The win snapped a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games and was Michigan’s 11th straight victory over Penn State. After the game, Beilein was just relieved his team regrouped after what seemed like a devastating series of events following halftime.
“They needed this badly,” Beilein said. “They really needed this badly. I would hate to think what would have happened if we didn’t pull this thing out.”
Penn State 63