Bob Wojnowski, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins of The Detroit News analyze the Friday victories by Michigan and Michigan State and preview Saturday's Big Ten tournament semifinal. Detroit News
New York — Michigan was craving another crack at Nebraska.
The fifth-seeded Wolverines got their long-awaited shot on Friday and didn’t miss, using another stifling defensive effort to roll to a 77-58 victory in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Moritz Wagner and Duncan Robinson shouldered the load and combined for 57 points for Michigan (26-7), which avenged its 72-52 regular-season loss two months ago in Lincoln, Neb.
Abdur-Rahkman finished with 21 points and went 5-for-5 from 3-point range, Wagner recorded a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Robinson scored 16 with four made 3-pointers.
The Wolverines will move on to the semifinals for the third straight season and have a date against top-seeded Michigan State set for 2 p.m. Saturday. Before looking ahead, though, Michigan wanted to savor the taste of its satisfying revenge.
Junior center talks about his team's performance in Friday's 77-58 win in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and Saturday's looming semifinal. James Hawkins
“I want to enjoy this one for the next hour or two and then we're going to worry a lot about it,” Wagner said. “Obviously, they're a good team. They didn't win the Big Ten (regular-season) championship for no reason. We're playing for a tough championship here and we won't get it for nothing.”
The fourth-seeded Cornhuskers trailed by as much as 18 in the first half but managed to whittle away at the deficit and pull within 40-33 following five free throws with 14:02 left in the second half.
Michigan responded with a 16-4 run — highlighted by a pair of clutch 3-pointers by Abdur-Rahkman and another deep ball by Robinson — to extend its lead to 53-37 at the 9:52 mark and Nebraska never cut it to single digits again.
Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson effectively provided the finishing touches with back-to-back 3-pointers to put the game out of reach and give Michigan a comfortable 61-42 cushion with 6:02 left.
Nebraska mustered a 7-0 run in less than a minute to trim it to 61-49 at the 4:28 mark, but Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson (12 points, six assists) countered with two free throws apiece and the Wolverines led by at least 14 points the rest of the way.
Isaiah Roby scored 18, James Palmer Jr. 16 and Glynn Watson Jr. 10 for Nebraska (22-10), which was playing for its NCAA Tournament life and responded by shooting 30.2 percent (16-for-53) from the field.
“I'm just thrilled with the win,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “This reminded me very much of like our Penn State and our Maryland games where we just were hitting on all cylinders and a lot of things on both offense and defense. And the defense, you look at the numbers right now, our defense was not good; it was great.”
Wagner got Michigan rolling early as he scored its first eight points and kick-started an 18-3 run with a 3-pointer as the Wolverines raced out to a 23-12 lead with 7:33 left in the first half.
Following Wagner’s deep ball, Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson each followed with a 3-pointer and Robinson scored on a fast-break layup as Michigan started the flurry with 11 straight points. Wagner added a dunk and Simpson scored on a driving layup to put the Wolverines in control early.
Senior forward talks about his team's 77-58 win in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament and Saturday's looming rivalry matchup. James Hawkins
“We thought the first four minutes of both halves were really crucial to set the tone and come out with some energy,” Robinson said. “It was big that we got that and that catapulted us into our success.”
So did Michigan’s hard-nosed defense, which forced Nebraska to miss 19 of 20 shots at one point in the first half and muddle through field-goal droughts of six and eight minutes.
“Their offensive pace really got us on our heels early,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said “When they make 11 3-pointers, you're in big trouble because then your defense gets too spread out, and it's hard to get them under control.
“I think Michigan just really played excellent sound, too, put us in a position of, I thought, overhandle the ball and take real questionable shots. And we just couldn't get back up on top once we got down by 11 or whatever it was.”
The Wolverines extended their lead to 33-15 at the 2:56 mark before Nebraska closed the half on a 9-1 run. But it did little to rattle a determined Michigan squad that moved one step closer to defending its Big Ten tournament title.
“It's the semifinals and we haven't won anything right now,” Wagner said. “Our standards (are) a lot higher and we’ve got to lock in tomorrow.”
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Michigan
Tip-off: 2 p.m. Saturday, Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950
Records: Michigan State 29-3, Michigan 26-7
Outlook: The Spartans, seeded No. 1 for the Big Ten tournament, and the Wolverines, seeded No. 5, meet for the second time this season, with a spot in the conference championship game at stake. Michigan won, 82-72, on Jan. 13 in East Lansing, with Moritz Wagner leading the way with a career-high 27 points.