Michigan coach Tommy Amaker insisted that the 11 a.m. tipoff for Saturday”s game against Penn State was old hat for his team. He explained that the Wolverines (5-6 Big Ten, 10-11 overall) meet three times a week for a team breakfast, and should not have been at all sluggish in what ended up being a very difficult 65-58 win over the Nittany Lions (2-9, 6-16).
But there was no better description of the quality of Michigan”s play especially in the first half than bleary, sluggish and sloppy. The Wolverines trailed at the intermission, 32-30.
“It wasn”t a work of art by either team,” Amaker said.
The two teams combined for 22 turnovers in the first half, and 35 in the game. Nine different Wolverines committed turnovers, but neither team was able to play offensively with enough fluidity or cleanliness to capitalize on the other”s carelessness.
“I think that we were just a little anxious,” senior tri-captain Leon Jones said. “A lot of guys came in and tried to force things instead of letting the game come to us like coach (Amaker) was saying. We were trying to make it happen off of one or two passes. We should have been throwing the ball around a couple of times and try to get Chris (Young) a few touches inside. That is when good things happen.”
Penn State sophomore guard Sharif Chambliss” 3-point shooting kept the Nittany Lions in the game. He shot 4-of-8 from behind the arc and ended the day with a game-high 19 points.
Michigan”s points came, uncharacteristically, on the inside. Senior center Chris Young posted a double-double the fourth of his career with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
But for the first time this season he was not the only Wolverine scoring in the paint. Michigan guards Jones and Bernard Robinson were able to create their own shots and penetrate, and the whole team benefited from quality offensive possessions (quick ball movement, smart shot selection) in the second half.
“I did a good job toward the end running the team, getting everybody touches, getting everybody the ball,” sophomore point guard Avery Queen said.
Trailing by three with 6:28 remaining, Amaker decided to allow the five players who many believe ought to be his regular starters finish the game to provide what he describes as a “spark.” Amaker had started walk-ons Mike Gotfredson and Herb Gibson, along with freshman Chuck Bailey.
But to finish the game against a team Michigan was expected to defeat, Amaker put junior forward LaVell Blanchard on the court with Queen, Robinson, Jones and Young. Michigan went on a 15-5 run to end the game the result of a balance created by Queen and by their own offensive smarts. Each of Michigan”s four top scorers ended the day in double-digits.
“We found a way to win we found a way to fight through and to dig it out,” Amaker said.
The win puts the Wolverines a game away from a .500 record. But Amaker admitted that his players were tired after the game. The Wolverines left Saturday afternoon for Fort Collins, Colo., where they play Colorado State tonight.