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Donnal still improving; Beilein barks for more

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Mark Donnal and Penn State's Jordan Dickerson go after a rebound during the second half.

New York -- Mark Donnal's role on this Michigan basketball team keeps getting bigger and bigger, and he's responding at almost every turn.

But not at every turn.

Twice in the first half, coach John Beilein had animated discussions with Donnal -- once after he took him out of the game, and once during a media timeout, when Beilein grabbed his clipboard and went right after Donnal.

What was that about?

"There's things he has to do in setting screens that are really important. There's gotta be a timing to it and he's still not understanding some of that," Beilein said. "That falls on Bacari (Alexander, assistant coach) and me.

"It is simple and he'll get it, and he'll get better at it."

Donnal's rise to importance in Michigan's rotation has been surprising, and swift -- starting with the Illinois game in the Big Ten opener.

A forgotten man early in the season, behind both Ricky Doyle and Mo Wagner, he's brought a toughness to the floor that the Wolverines have needed.

In Saturday's 79-72 win over Penn State at Madison Square Garden, he had 10 points and six big rebounds.

But there's clearly still room for him to grow.

"I embrace change in what we're doing, and sometimes that's a lot on a guy, and he's involved in most of our ball screens," Beilein said. "So some of the little angles we want him to take, he's still learning."

‘Great stage’

There were 12,108 at the Garden for the basketball game, and it was a spirited crowd, even for a noon game on a neutral court.

The crowd was pretty evenly split, even though it was Penn State's "home" game.

"Just a great stage for us to be on," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said.

Resilient Michigan turns back gritty Penn State

Said Beilein: "It is great for the young men to play in Madison Square Garden, bring the Big Ten into this mecca of basketball. ... Great crowd, 12,000, I think. It's a pretty legitimate 12,000. I mean, we could hear them."

Sitting next to Beilein, Derrick Walton Jr. animatedly nodded his head.

This was the first Big Ten basketball-hockey doubleheader at the Garden. Teams for the next two years have been announced, and Michigan and Michigan State aren't among them.

On Saturday night, Michigan and Penn State were to play their hockey game, and the basketball teams were staying to watch. The crew at MSG wasted no time switching out the floors, removing the basketball court within 30 minutes of the final buzzer -- and turning up the air-conditioning, as well.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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