STATE COLLEGE – Michigan came into yesterday’s 78-62 win over Penn State with a sick feeling in its stomach. After dropping a three-point game to Illinois on Saturday, it then saw its chance of capturing the Big Ten Championship become that much smaller when Wisconsin beat Minnesota on Sunday.
But the Wolverines were able to respond to the weekend’s blows with one of their best offensive performances of the season. In scoring 78 points, they put up their second biggest scoring effort in Big Ten play, as they shot 60 percent from the field and 70 percent in the second half.
But what is most telling about the Wolverines’ performance is the 17 assists and five players reaching double figures. It marked the first time in Big Ten play that five Wolverines scored more than 10 points in a game. Previously, four Wolverines had reached the mark on five occasions in conference play.
“I thought we had a really solid performance and did a tremendous job in the second half of picking up the pieces,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker. “We played an outstanding team game and didn’t rely on just one player.”
The Michigan offense was able to spread the Penn State defense by completing extra passes and finding players down low. The Wolverines poured in 34 points in the paint for the game.
Extra passes allowed Michigan to complete baskets in transition, strengthening its intensity on the defensive end. On one sequence late in the second half, a Chuck Bailey block led to a three-on-one fast break led by Bernard Robinson. Robinson dished to Daniel Horton, who hit a trailing Chris Hunter, who slammed the ball home. Hunter was the final Wolverine to break into double digits with 12 points.
Passes like these were not being made in some of Michigan’s losses, particularly against Wisconsin last Wednesday. Players admit that getting everyone involved raises the intensity level of the team and makes playing more enjoyable.
“Its great to see that we are multi-dimensional and not just one or two guys,” Hunter said. “Tonight Daniel and Bernard got us some open shots and some easy looks. I am thankful for them for getting us good shots.”
Michigan’s low-post baskets opened shots up for Michigan’s outside shooters, who buried more than half of their 3-point shots, going 9-for-17 on the night. It was the first time this season that Michigan has connected on more than half of its 3-point attempts.
“We spaced well, we drove it and were very unselfish,” Amaker said. “As a player you enjoy playing in that atmosphere and style when you know everyone is sharing the ball. You cut, move in space and wind up getting the ball (for an easy bucket).”
Penn State’s head coach, Jerry Dunn, attributed the Michigan offensive success to its ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the baseline. The Wolverines were also able to exploit the Nittany Lions’ defensive rotations, and that created mismatches up high and high-percentage shots down low.
Creating these advantages and spreading the court on offense became imperative for the Wolverines after LaVell Blanchard went down in the second half with a sore ankle. Blanchard, the team’s senior leader, acted as its catalyst for the second straight game. He put up 16 points in the first half as he hit four of his six 3-point attempts.
“I really thought this game was going to say more internally and tell us as a staff so much about our team,” Amaker said. “Given where we came from and what was at stake last weekend, for us to go on the road and receive solid performances and do some positive things.”