In 'tournament' mode, Michigan handles Minnesota as MSU clash looms
Minneapolis — The second meeting was starting to unfold like the first one.
Michigan was seemingly in control and held a comfortable lead with 10 minutes to go before Minnesota started to slowly crawl back into it.
But this time, there were no last-second heroics needed for the No. 7 Wolverines. Instead, junior center Jon Teske nailed a pair of crucial 3-pointers to shut the door on the Gophers in a 69-60 win Thursday at Williams Arena.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole finished with 22 points and made five 3-pointers, Teske added 17 points and five blocks, and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis scored 10 for Michigan (24-3, 13-3 Big Ten), which maintained its footing atop the Big Ten standings heading into Sunday’s highly anticipated showdown against No. 10 Michigan State.
"I don't think with our guys Michigan State was ever on our mind one minute," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We know this is like a tournament right now. Each game we play is going to allow you to advance to the next round. We looked at it a little bit like that and we looked at it as this is a tournament type of team ... and you've got them first.
"You can't go and lose and then say, 'We're going to win a championship.' We love the competition we have with Michigan State. We're trying to win a championship. And to win a championship, you've got to beat Minnesota."
Jordan Murphy had 18 points and 15 rebounds and Daniel Oturu had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (17-10, 7-9), which shot 54.8 percent in the second half after scoring 18 points on 22.2-percent shooting in the first half.
With the defense getting it done in the opening 20 minutes, Michigan’s offense got in on the act and caught fire in a hurry with a 12-2 run to put Minnesota in a 40-22 hole with 15:51 remaining.
Brazdeikis started the flurry and provided much of the scoring punch, finishing a pair of strong takes at the rim sandwiched around a 3-pointer. Teske followed with a 3-pointer from the wing to give Michigan a commanding 18-point cushion.
The Wolverines stretched the lead to 50-29 on a 3-pointer from sophomore forward Isaiah Livers at the 11:48 mark. And on a night Michigan’s defense was locked in from the start, that seemed like it was going to be a difficult uphill battle.
Still, the Gophers put up a fight and used a 7-0 spurt to pull within 53-40 and prompt a Michigan timeout with 7:56 to go.
Teske and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews briefly stemmed the tide with a layup and 3-pointer, respectively, but Minnesota kept pushing. Behind the brute strength of Oturu and Murphy, Minnesota managed to cut it to 58-47 at the 4:45 mark.
But that’s when Teske stepped up and delivered back-to-back 3-point daggers to thwart the threat and give Michigan a 64-47 advantage with 3:39 to go.
"One thing that me and Jon talk about is shooters shoot all the time," Poole said. "Jon is a big-time shooter and there's not a lot of bigs who are going to go out there and guard him. Being able to have the confidence and continuously draw plays in order for him to shoot 3s is a huge, huge boost for our team.
"As long as he has confidence and he's hitting 3s, it gives everybody else confidence. I feel like we all feed off of each other whether it's X (Zavier Simpson) hitting a 3 or Jon hitting a 3. And whenever he's open, I get on him, Charles gets on him, Coach B, everybody gets on him if he's not shooting a 3 because we know how good he is as a shooter."
Minnesota made one last rally to pull within 68-58 with 1:02 remaining but couldn’t get any closer as it came up empty on its next two possessions.
"That's really a good win for us," Beilein said. "We didn't shoot it well in the first half, but our defense was so good that it allowed us to score 28 points and still have a 10-point lead.
"There's no way they're going to score 18 points in the second half again. They've got too much talent. ...Didn't love the way we finished the game. Thank goodness we had a big enough lead where it didn't hurt us."
The Wolverines flexed their defensive muscle throughout the first half, forcing the Gophers to miss 10 straight shots and holding them scoreless for over five minutes as Michigan ripped off a 15-2 run to take a 17-6 lead with 11:55 left in the half.
Michigan buried back-to-back 3-pointers from Poole and Brazdeikis to start a streak of 11 straight points. Simpson (five points, 12 assists) capped the spurt with another deep ball from the corner to make it an 11-point game.
Despite the offense bogging down and the Wolverines only making two shots in the final 8:10, Minnesota couldn’t put a dent in the deficit because Michigan's relentless defense didn't budge.
The Gophers could only muster two buckets in the final 7:23, including a last-second tip-in, as the Wolverines took a 28-18 lead into the break and never looked back — or ahead — heading into Sunday's top-10 clash.
"We're not thinking about Michigan State at all right now," Poole said. "We're thinking about this one tonight, going and getting a really good win on the road.
"We'll look at whoever is next on the schedule after this, but we like to enjoy our wins like this and take them for what they are because there's not a lot of teams that can go out there and get big-time wins on the road."