STATE COLLEGE – Coming off the most emotional loss of the season Saturday against Illinois, nobody knew which Michigan basketball team would show up at Penn State last night. Turns out, the team that won 16-of-19 games – not the squad that lost its last two – showed up in State College.
For the first time in the Big Ten season, five players scored in double figures for Michigan as it cruised to a 78-62 win over the Nittany Lions. The Wolverines had everything working on the offensive end, as they shot 60 percent from the field for the game and nearly 70 percent in the second half.
Although the win gave Michigan (10-5 Big Ten, 17-11 overall) 10 wins in conference for the first time since 1997-98, Wisconsin’s 60-59 win over Illinois clinched the regular season title for the Badgers.
“Before the game, we talked a lot about how this would be a difficult game for us and how it would say a lot about our team,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought we did a great job of regrouping and responding.”
For the second consecutive game, LaVell Blanchard was on fire. The senior, playing in his final regular season road game, drained 4-of-5 3-pointers in the first half on his way to 16 points in 18 minutes. Nobody could stop him, as he was able to carry the Wolverines through a difficult defensive stretch.
But finally, the injury bug bit, as Blanchard suffered an ankle injury after grabbing a rebound late in the first half. He left the game, came back in to sink one of his 3-pointers, but did not feel comfortable on the floor.
“I wasn’t moving well, so Coach Amaker decided to take me out,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard only played seven minutes in the second half, but his comrades turned it up a notch and picked up the slack. Freshman Daniel Horton and junior Bernard Robinson, who had two and six points in the first and second halves respectively, exploded on the offensive end to lead the Wolverines.
“This is a great team,” Blanchard said. “When I went out, everybody hit big shots, Sherrod made a big shot, Bernard was making great moves and dishes.”
Robinson’s game was working inside and outside, as he displayed his touch from long range, as well as his quickness and agility in going to the basket. His dominance was never more evident than in the second half when he called for the ball on the baseline and drove right past Penn State’s Jan Jagla to throw it down for a 70-59 Michigan lead. He finished 1-of-2 from behind the arc.
“(Robinson) would be a tough matchup for anyone,” Penn State coach Jerry Dunn said.
Robinson finished with a game-high 17, while Horton finished with 12 on 5-of-10 shooting. Freshmen Lester Abram (14 points) and Chris Hunter (12) were the other two Michigan players in double figures.
Abram was tenacious as usual on the floor. He reached double figures for the fifth straight game and seventh in his last eight. Hunter was perfect from the floor at 6-of-6, as he finished tough plays around the glass that he wasn’t finishing earlier this season. He even dunked a few times, which was a welcome sight for his fellow teammates.
It was a special night for Horton individually as well. With two 3-pointers, Horton passed former Wolverine Louis Bullock for most 3-pointers made by a Michigan freshman in a season.
But the word of the day was “teamwork,” as Amaker was marveled by his team’s unselfish, disciplined play.
“I thought we played an outstanding team game in the second half,” Amaker said. “We were unselfish, we took care of the basketball, we made good decisions and we spread the ball around really well.
“It was fun to watch.”
Abram was also thrilled with the smooth Michigan offense, but said that the Wolverines will have to improve its rebounding if they want to finish out the season with a win over Purdue at home this Saturday. Penn State managed to grab 13 offensive rebounds in the game.
“Defensively, we gave up way too many offensive rebounds,” Abram said. “We have to tighten up with that.”