'They punked us': Michigan stumbles against last-place Penn State
University Park, Pa. — Michigan entered Bryce Jordan Center with a chance to add some cushion atop the Big Ten standings.
Instead, what unfolded was one long, miserable night.
The No. 6 Wolverines were sloppy on offense, dominated on the glass and had their second-ranked defense picked apart by the last-place team in the conference.
On top of that, coach John Beilein was ejected for the first time in his Michigan career at the end of the first half for arguing a non-call involving junior guard Zavier Simpson.
It was all part of a disastrous first half the Wolverines were never able to recover from in a dismal 75-69 loss to Penn State on Tuesday.
"They punked us. Simple as that," said redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews, who finished with a team-high 24 points.
"They outrebounded us by 10, had 12 offensive rebounds. You're not winning a game giving a team 12 offensive rebounds. It's all about who's going to rebound and who's going to defend. And we didn't do that."
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole added 17 points but went 1-for-8 from 3-point range for Michigan (22-3, 11-3 Big Ten), which shot 51 percent (25-for-49) from the field yet still found itself playing catch-up after trailing by 13 at halftime.
Thanks to the two technical fouls Beilein picked up that led to his dismissal, Penn State made three of four free throws to push its lead to 43-27 before the second half even started.
With assistant coach Saddi Washington taking over the helm over the final 20 minutes, the Wolverines put the disastrous first half behind them and, slowly but surely, began mounting a comeback with a 16-5 run.
The flurry started with five straight points from sophomore forward Isaiah Livers on a 3-pointer and two free throws to cut the deficit down to 50-40 with 15:15 remaining.
Then junior center Jon Teske added a three-point play and Matthews buried mid-range jumper to cap a string of seven straight points to make it 52-47 at the 12:02 mark.
The Wolverines continued to fight as Matthews capped the run with a driving layup and two free throws to pull Michigan within 55-51 with 8:21 to go. But rally fizzled out as Poole missed a pair of tough 3-pointers that would’ve made it a one-possession game.
"The game was decided in the first half," Matthews said. "We came back and fought. Saddi did a hell of a job coaching us, but the game was lost in the first half. Simple as that."
Penn State regained control with a 3-pointer from Myles Dread and a tip-in to spark a 10-3 run that put Michigan in a 65-54 hole with 2:34 to go.
Michigan mustered one final push, using back-to-back baskets from Matthews and a 3-pointer from Simpson to cut it to 70-66 with 34 seconds to go.
But it was too little, too late as the Nittany Lions recorded six of their 21 made free throws in the final minute to stave off the Wolverines and pull off the upset.
Lamar Stevens finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds and Dread had 17 points and five made 3-pointers for Penn State (9-15, 2-11), which put up 40 first-half points, won the rebounding battle by a 35-25 margin and attempted more than twice as many free throws (34) as Michigan (16).
"I thought our guys fought hard in the second half," Washington said. "We didn't make enough plays to turn it our way. We got it down to four and some things that could've went our way but didn't. We knew coming in here Penn State is a really tough team and they're not a reflection of their record."
The Nittany Lions proved that from the opening tip and didn't back down from the Wolverines. Penn State used a mixture of hustle plays, offensive rebounds and a couple early 3-pointers to open up a 17-9 lead with 14:06 left in the first half.
After Penn State made seven of first 10 shots, Michigan used a 9-3 spurt that was capped with a floater by Poole to pull within 20-18 at the 10:38 mark, which ended up being the closest the Wolverines would get the rest of the way.
Much of that had to do with Penn State's press and downhill attack, which threw Michigan out of sync on both ends. The Nittany Lions also went to a smaller lineup that gave the Wolverines fits and helped extend the lead to 31-22 on a tip-in by Stevens with 4:27 left in the half.
Michigan could only muster two baskets down the stretch and watched the deficit swell to 40-27 at the break following a buzzer-beating layup by Rasir Bolton (13 points) where Simpson was knocked down to the ground on a screen.
That led to Beilein getting tossed and capped a nightmarish half the Wolverines weren't able to wake up from.
"They (Penn State) led in second half of their last six games against really good teams and they weren't able to win," Beilein said. "It just shows who they are. All of you will make a whole lot about their Big Ten record; just look at their scores. They're a basket or two away from being a team in the middle of our league with all those games they've played.
"You lose to a top-100 team on the road, it's not the end of the world."