In tennis, to holding serve is a term that describes a player executing what is expected of him.

For the Michigan basketball team, holding serve requires winning Big Ten home games.

Tonight’s game against Penn State offers the Wolverines their second chance to hold serve, and they understand the significance.

“It’s very important because it’s a home game,” senior Courtney Sims said. “We’ve got to hold serve in the Big Ten if we want to do what we say we want to do in terms of making the (NCAA) Tournament and trying to win the Big Ten. We have to hold serve and then win our away games. But most importantly, we have to win at home.”

After the team’s most recent loss at Purdue Saturday, the weight of the contest against the Nittany Lions has increased dramatically.

Michigan’s next four road games are against Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State. The Badgers and Buckeyes are both ranked in the top 10. The Wolverines have not won in Bloomington since 1995 and have not left East Lansing victorious since 1997.

Understanding the difficulty of winning on the road in conference play, the team recognizes a victory tonight is mandatory.

But it certainly won’t be easy.

Penn State’s lineup features pre-season All-Big Ten pick Geary Claxton. Claxton has lived up to the hype so far this season, averaging 17 points per game, good enough for fifth in the conference. A 6-foot-6 wing, Claxton has also averaged almost nine rebounds per game, ranking second in the Big Ten.

“I like Claxton. I think he’s an outstanding player,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “He rebounds very well, and he’s tough. I think he’s one of the better players in our league.”

Amaker said that Claxton is a tough matchup because he likes to play on the baseline and post up against smaller players. But if teams choose to guard Claxton with a bigger player, he’ll counter with his speed.

Picking up the assignment for Michigan will probably be senior Dion Harris, by far the team’s strongest and most consistent defender.

“I love to get a challenge on the defensive end,” Harris said. “I think we watched some tape in the preseason of us playing Michigan State, and (Amaker) was telling me how hard I play on defense against guys that are good like (former Spartan and current Dallas Maverick Maurice) Ager and all those guys. He was telling me I need to play like that against everybody.”

The Nittany Lions also feature 6-foot-5 forward Jamelle Cornley, who averages 14 points per game along with 7.4 rebounds (third in the Big Ten).

For a Michigan team that saw Sims corral just one rebound against Purdue, which also featured an undersized post player, Cornley could present problems as well.

“He’s tough,” Sims said. “He’s undersized, but he can score in the paint, and he’s aggressive and strong.”

Regardless of the challenge that Claxton, Cornley and the rest of the Nittany Lions offer, Michigan knows it must have tonight’s game if it hopes to convince the NCAA Selection Committee that it deserves a spot in the Tournament. And while being at home will help, the Wolverines cannot rely on their home-court advantage to guarantee a win.

“We’re not going to win this game just because it’s at home,” Amaker said. “We have to battle, we have to compete, we have to execute . against a team that is one of the more underrated teams in our league.”

Note: The athletic department is once again offering bus service for fans attending tonight’s game. The Maize Rage bus will pick up fans at Mary Markley Residence Hall, East Quadrangle Residence Hall and the Michigan Union beginning at 7 p.m. and running continuous loops until 11 p.m.

Tonight:
Penn State at Michigan
(Michigan 14-4; Penn State 10-6)
When: Tonight 8:05 P.M.
Where: Crisler Arena
TV/Radio:
ESPN Plus

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