'Focused' Michigan trumps Maryland, remains in Big Ten title hunt
College Park, Md. — March has a way of making the improbable seem possible.
Michigan’s chances of grabbing of share of the Big Ten regular-season title would fall under that category.
With the finish line within sight and without redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews for the second straight game, the No. 9 Wolverines kept pace in the frantic conference race with a 69-62 win over Maryland Sunday at the Xfinity Center.
"Through the history of the Big Ten, the regular-season championship is a prize for most programs that have any history in this. That's the prize," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We haven't won it many times, so to get a regular-season championship, we're still in the hunt.
"I would assume maybe there's two or three (teams) still in that hunt and getting a championship by yourself is even bigger."
Michigan (26-4, 15-4 Big Ten) sits a half-game behind Purdue and a half-game ahead of Michigan State with one game remaining. The Boilermakers and Spartans each have two to play.
Mathematically there’s still a chance the Wolverines could win the title outright, but it would require Michigan to win its regular-season finale at Michigan State on Saturday and Purdue to lose out.
While the odds of that happening might not be in Michigan's favor, it's still a position it wouldn't be in if not for 12-2 second-half run coupled with another sound defensive effort and balanced scoring attack led by freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis' 21 points.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole added 12 points and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers scored 11, while junior guard Zavier Simpson (12 points, 10 assists) and junior center Jon Teske (11 points, 10 rebounds) each recorded a double-double.
Bruno Fernando had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Jalen Smith scored 11 for No. 17 Maryland (21-9, 12-7), which gave up 11 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points to Michigan.
"I'm disappointed, but we lost to a top-10 team that played better than we did today, shot more free-throws in our building than we did," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "They deserved to win."
After Michigan rode into halftime with the momentum and the lead, Simpson picked up two fouls 90 seconds into the second half and Maryland climbed back on top.
The Terrapins rattled off a 9-2 run that ended with three baskets in the paint by Smith to turn a six-point deficit into a 36-35 lead with 15:50 to go.
By the time Simpson checked back in at the 11:03 mark, though, Maryland could only widen the gap to two points. And Simpson promptly made his return felt during the key 12-2 run that put Michigan up for good, 53-45, with 4:38 to go.
During the spurt, Simpson scored on a hook shot before he found Brazdeikis for a 3-pointer and capped it with another running hook shot all while helping hold Maryland over eight minutes between made field goals.
But Simpson wasn’t done. He found Teske for a 3-pointer and knifed his way to the basket for another scooping layup to make it 60-52 with 2:28 to go.
"We had some of those similar shots in the first half and we didn't make any," Beilein said. "They had a great game plan defensively against us and finally we made some shots at the end. Once you spread them out, they don't want to foul us and we could shorten the game a little bit. And then Zavier made all the plays down the stretch."
Maryland cut it to 62-57 on a 3-pointer from Anthony Cowan with 1:27 remaining, but Livers countered with a 3-pointer and Poole and Brazdeikis combined to make four free throws in the final 29 seconds to keep Michigan's title hopes afloat.
"We were just super locked in," Brazdeikis said of the second half. "Bruno is huge and we had to get him off the boards. That was the main thing. They got so many offensive rebounds early in that second half and then once we started taking them off those boards and not giving those second chances, I felt like we got it going for ourselves."
With Maryland coming off a trouncing at Penn State and a horde of former Terrapins on hand for the program’s 100 seasons celebration, Michigan walked into a charged-up atmosphere and struggled to settle in offensively. The Wolverines missed 11 of their first 15 shots and didn’t score their first basket until 3:22 into the game.
Despite the rough shooting start, Michigan aggressively attacked the rim — with Brazdeikis’ bully ball style leading the way — crashed the offensive glass and drew fouls to get to the free-throw line to hang tight over the first 10 minutes.
Maryland used a 6-0 run to grab a 20-14 lead with 7:54 left in the first half, but a running hook shot from Simpson quieted crowd. From there, Michigan leaned on its defense to hold Maryland to one basket in the final 7:09 and feasted on second-chance points to close out the half on a 12-2 run.
Brazdeikis started the spurt by draining Michigan’s first 3-pointer on its ninth attempt and Teske scored on a tip-in over Fernando to give the Wolverines their first lead, 24-22, at the 2:16 mark.
Simpson capped the flurry — and a half that saw Michigan make just one shot outside the paint — by outracing the Maryland defense and beating the buzzer with a scooping layup for a 28-24 advantage at the break.
"I love the way our team responded today, whether it was when they got off to a 6-0 start and two guys not known for making 3s both made 3s to start the game," Beilein said. "We just stayed in there and stayed in there and stayed in there. Iggy hit a 3 in the first half, it just got close again and we finished strong.
"The second half the same story. They really came out strong and we just answered really well. This is as focused as we've been. We've only lost four games, but we've had some times this year that we really got pruned. And being a farm boy, when you get pruned you grow back stronger."