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 — The Madison Square Garden spotlight has seemingly brought out a different side of fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson.
During the regular season, it was uncommon for Robinson to show much emotion or celebrate after knocking down a big-time basket for Michigan.
But whenever the Wolverines have needed a crucial shot in the Big Ten tournament, Robinson has been there to deliver — complete with an emphatic chest thump or two.
“That’s him. That’s the Duncan we’ve all been waiting for,” freshman forward Isaiah Livers said following Michigan’s 77-58 win over Nebraska in the quarterfinals “He’s certainly stepping up right now.
“I see a lot more swag. It’s swaggy Duncan. He has way more swag to his game and I love it. He’s talking stuff and everything. He’s an interesting player to watch. He’s running down the floor, ‘Yeah, you got to guard me.’ I like that. That’s Duncan. That makes him better when he talks to himself like that.”
After knocking down all three of Michigan’s 3-pointers in Thursday’s win over Iowa, Robinson followed that up with four more momentous deep balls against Nebraska. He finished with 16 points.
He trotted back down the court holding up three fingers on both hands after draining a 3-pointer during Michigan’s 18-3 first-half run and another to cap a late 7-0 run that gave the Wolverines an 18-point lead.
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
But none was bigger than his fourth and final 3-pointer that effectively buried Nebraska. After providing the dagger shot and pushing Michigan’s lead to 58-42 with 6:40 to go, he let the Cornhuskers know by acting like he was holstering two guns at his hips.
Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson said this version of Robinson is just a product of the rising energy and intensity that comes with the one-and-done nature of the Big Ten tournament.
“I actually talked to Duncan about a month ago,” Simpson said. “Every time he scored he didn’t show emotion. He was kind of not too cool, but just like, ‘Eh.’ I told him you know how proud the guys on the bench and the coaches would be if you show some emotion because him and Muhammad (-Ali Abdur-Rahkman) don’t show it.
“We see him show it and we get excited and then we show it for them. Now we’re engaged. Now we’re locked in mentally. Now we’re physically engaged.”
Over the last seven games, Robinson has been dialed in, averaging 13 points and shooting 53.8 percent (28-for-52) from the field, including 55 percent (22-for-40) from 3-point range.
But most importantly, he’s playing with an added sense of confidence and swag like never before.
“Seniors got to step up in the last games of their career,” Robinson said. “It’s a cliché, but I think it’s very true.
“I’m just trying to play with a chip on my shoulder a little bit. There’s just a heightened sense of urgency this time of year as a senior and a guy whose time is running out on his senior year. So, I want to make it count and I want to make this season last.”
Poole cools off
Freshman guard Jordan Poole entered the postseason on a roll, scoring at least 12 points and shooting 9-for-12 from 3-point range over the final three regular-season games.
Poole’s torrid shooting stretch has hit a snag in Michigan’s first two conference tournament games. He finished with two points on 1-for-9 shooting against Nebraska and six points on 3-for-7 shooting against Iowa.
During the two-game span, he’s also a combined 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.
“They haven’t been falling. I could tell when I went to the basket and it rimmed in and out,” Poole said. “It’s a good thing that we turn around and got a game tomorrow instead of waiting another week for a game.
“I was getting the shots I wanted and the looks I wanted; they just weren’t falling. You can’t sulk. You got to bounce back and just hoop.”
Poole added he’s not getting too amped up by the atmosphere and excitement of playing at Madison Square Garden, and his teammates are confident it’ll be a brief cold spell.
“He’s a natural scorer and he has all the confidence in the world, so I’m expecting him to get out of his slump tomorrow,” Livers said.
In the first half, Robinson reached a career milestone and surpassed 1,000 career points.
“I never would’ve thought I’d be in this situation or positon, so I’m just really grateful,” he said.
“Try to get on the floor, make an impact, have a role — that’s what I really wanted to do (when I transferred here). It was a big decision. I had to bet on myself, but I feel like it was a really good decision.”
… Abdur-Rahkman ditched the rec specs he was wearing for added protection for his left eye early in the first half.
… Nebraska’s 58 points and 30.2 percent shooting (16-for-53) from the field were both its third-lowest marks of the season.
… Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews and Jon Teske each swatted two shots as Michigan tied a season high with six blocks.