It was one of those dirty little secrets that nobody wanted to admit, but it had reached the point where nobody could deny it anymore.
Michigan isn’t a good 3-point shooting team.
Heading into last night’s game against Penn State, the Wolverines were not just last in the Big Ten in 3-point field-goal percentage, but they were also last in 3-pointers made.
But judging from its performance against the Nittany Lions, Michigan didn’t get the memo.
Facing a zone defense for nearly the entire contest, the Wolverines had plenty of open looks from the outside. And for the most part, they took advantage from downtown in last night’s 77-57 win.
For the game, Michigan was 12-of-21 from beyond the arc.
“I think a lot of this can be contagious,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “If you hit one or two (3-pointers) early, boy does it tend to have that semblance of order for the remainder of the ballgame, and that’s what happened to us. We started off hitting a few threes, and I think that allowed our shooters to settle down and feel good about it. . They need to see that ball going through the hole.”
Junior Ron Coleman led the way for the Wolverines, breaking out of a shooting slump that had haunted him for all of December and the better part of January.
The Romulus native was on fire in the first half, knocking down all three 3-pointers he attempted. In the process, he helped Michigan navigate past some early foul trouble, as seniors Harris, Lester Abram and Courtney Sims were all saddled with two fouls at one point in the first half.
“I’ve been working pretty hard, trying to find my shot again,” Coleman said. “I felt comfortable enough to shoot it, . and I kept shooting because I knew, hopefully, it would fall for me.”
But it wasn’t just Coleman knocking down threes. Abram, Harris, freshman Reed Baker and sophomore Jerret Smith all knocked down multiple trifectas.
Earlier this season, when facing zone defenses, the Wolverines swung the ball around the perimeter searching for an open look. This time around, Michigan’s guards focused on penetrating into the interior and kicking the ball back out to the perimeter into the waiting hands of wide-open teammates.
“It was nice to see our guys stepping up and making some open shots,” Amaker said.
Rebounders rebound: Getting outplayed wasn’t something Michigan’s big men wanted to get used to.
So following Saturday’s loss to Purdue when the Wolverines were beaten on the boards, the frontcourt players knew something had to be changed.
And considering their performance last night, that something was fixed.
Michigan took matters into its own hands. The Wolverines’ forwards and centers pounded the Nittany Lions on the glass, outrebounding them 35-24 for the game.
Penn State came into the contest with the Big Ten’s top rebounder, senior Geary Claxton, but he was held to just three boards.
And it wasn’t as if there was a Ben Wallace-like performance from one person on the glass. Four Wolverines had five or more rebounds. Freshman Ekpe Udoh was particularly impressive, corralling four offensive boards.
“We worked on it right after that (Purdue) game,” Petway said. “We pride ourselves on beating teams on the glass. As a team we came back tonight saying, ‘We were going to get back to our identity.’ “
Let me assist you with that: Being a former point guard himself, Amaker always emphasizes having a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.
But for the most part this season, the Wolverines haven’t been able to accomplish his goal. They came into last night’s game averaging just over 11 assists per game, but committed nearly 15 turnovers in the process.
And while Michigan still had 15 turnovers against the Nittany Lions, it was able to combat those errors with 19 assists. It was a key reason why the Wolverines scored 77 points against a Penn State team that tends to slow down the game.