Michigan coach talks about his team responding from a loss at Iowa with a 77-65 win at Rutgers on Tuesday. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Piscataway, N.J. — Michigan coach John Beilein received something sweeter than cake on his 66th birthday.
The gift? A new record with his name on it.
With Tuesday’s 77-65 win over Rutgers at the Rutgers Athletic Center, Beilein leapfrogged Johnny Orr and set a program mark for most Big Ten victories by a Michigan coach with 121.
"If I'm compared to Johnny Orr at any time, that's a heck of a compliment," said Beilein, who's also the program's all-time winningest coach. "He got a lot of wins, and he had some great players and I've had great players. I think if he were still alive he would say I've had really good assistant coaches and I've had really good players. And I'm going to say the same exact thing."
The milestone moment was never in doubt for Beilein thanks to the three-headed scoring attack of freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis, sophomore guard Jordan Poole and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews, who combined for 49 points and hit several key shots down the stretch.
Brazdeikis finished with 23 points and a season-high five made 3-pointers, Poole added 15 points and Matthews scored 11. Junior guard Zavier Simpson flirted with another triple-double with 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for No. 7 Michigan (21-2, 10-2 Big Ten), which remained atop conference standings and took a half-game lead over Purdue.
Eugene Omoruyi had 21 points and Montez Mathis scored 12 for Rutgers (11-11, 4-8), who could never recover from a poor start and a 17-point hole roughly nine minutes into the game.
Much of that had to do with Michigan’s blistering offense that was getting production from all sources throughout the first half. But things eventually started to cool off a bit in the second half.
Michigan could only muster two made baskets over the first five minutes and Rutgers took advantage, making a push to pull within 48-41 on a Shaquille Doorson dunk that injected life into the sellout crowd with 15:01 to go.
The Wolverines came up with a response in the form of two free throws by Simpson and back-to-back 3-pointers by Poole and Brazdeikis to extend the lead to 56-43 roughly two minutes later.
The Scarlet Knights continued to threaten and trimmed the deficit to 10 three times in the final 10 minutes, but the Wolverines answered each time with two 3-pointers from Brazdeikis and a running hook from Simpson to keep them at a distance.
On the fourth time, Rutgers finally broke through with two free throws from Geo Baker to cut it to single digits, 66-58, with 4:11 remaining. But it was short-lived as Poole splashed a mid-range jumper and hushed the crowd.
The Scarlet Knights couldn't pull any closer as their offense went silent and was held without a field goal until the closing seconds. Brazdeikis came up with a pair of critical defensive stops on back-to-back possessions and Simpson, Poole and Matthews went a combined 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:39 to put it away.
"When you play an elite team, you can't have a bad start, you can't have a bad middle, you can't have a bad ending," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "You have to play well the whole time. You can't have any bad when you're playing an excellent team, an elite team.
"We needed some timely stops defensively or some timely offensive possessions. ...Every time we made a mistake they made us pay on the offensive end."
Michigan wasted little time bouncing back from what Beilein deemed his team’s “worst performance of the year” at Iowa last week. The Wolverines made nine of their first 11 shots, used their disruptive defense and ripped off a 24-6 run to jump all over Rutgers.
Brazdeikis got the offense cooking by scoring the first eight points, highlighted by two 3-pointers, before Poole splashed a deep ball to put Michigan up 18-6 with 14:18 left in the first half.
Everyone in the starting five had it working early as the ball was popping, including Matthews. He knocked down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer followed by a post-up and turnaround jumper to push the lead to 27-10 at 10:56 mark.
"It was very important," junior center Jon Teske said of the start coming off the Iowa loss. "On the road we want to get out to a quick lead, have our defense set the tone, get out in transition, get some open shots. We knocked down a couple 3s and really set the tone."
The offense continued to hum along until Rutgers strung together stops and got hot in a hurry, rattling off an 8-0 run in less than a minute to cut it to 38-29 and force Beilein to call a timeout with 3:04 left in the half.
Rutgers’ momentum ended there. Poole drained a 3-pointer to snap the run and Brazdeikis finished a baseline drive to put Michigan up, 43-31, at the half and Beilein in line for a lasting birthday present.
"I do cherish road wins. I cherish them for about 10 minutes," Beilein said. "It's a sickness that I can't get away from, but I'm trying like crazy to realize that I'm not going to coach forever. These are great wins and these road wins — for us to have four road wins in the league already is a really good accomplishment."